On Sunday, Alexander and I needed to make a trip to Three Eagles, the local hiker outfitter, for supplies. The store was an eight-mile round trip—a longer walk than we wanted to make on our last down day at the hotel—but when I called the front desk, I was told that the only taxi service in Franklin, North Carolina, did not operate on Sundays.
I called Three Eagles Outfitters next, to explain our wheel-less situation, and a very accommodating girl named Katelynn gave us the number of a local shuttle driver, a “Miss Beverly,” she said. Within twenty minutes, a gold Honda CRV rolled up to the hotel portico, and Miss Beverly greeted us decked out in her church finery—and immediately let us know that she did not shuttle folks during church time, but as Sunday morning services had concluded at her place of worship, she was officially open for business.
Displaying the vigor one might expect in a motivational speaker, she told us at length how, in her mid-seventies, she had become the “Go-to Gal” for hiker shuttles in and around Franklin. A year or so earlier, it seems, her grandson had completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail and had asked her to pick him up outside of Franklin. To Miss Beverly’s dismay, her grandson failed to give her either a specific time or a specific location for the pickup. So, on the appointed day, Miss Beverly drove to the only spot she knew near the trail, Standing Indian Campground. There she found several hikers, none of whom had met her grandson. The hikers asked Miss Beverly for his trail name, a concept with which Miss Beverly was entirely unfamiliar—but not for long.
As it turned out, Miss Beverly had just encountered her first group of clients. The dozen or so hikers thrust cash in her direction, requesting she give them rides to town and make food, cigarette, and NDBR’s (near-death beer runs) for them. To hear Miss Beverly tell it, when they displayed those greenbacks, she felt like someone had placed her at an altar that was gushing green abundance. Then her motherly instincts took over, and Miss Beverly brought all the hikers back to her house, where she cooked them meals, washed their clothes, and shuttled the entire bunch around Franklin over one very long weekend. In the process, she received a crash course in AT life and lingo that would stand her in very good stead in her new career. (Yes, she finally found her grandson—but not before she found a new niche for herself.)
Although Miss Beverly knew that opening her home as a hostel would be far too much work, she had really enjoyed being around all those young people, with their wide-eyed optimism and high energy. So she hung out her shingle and became Miss Beverly, the Hiker Shuttle-ist.
But the service Miss Beverly provides hikers is no ordinary taxi service, as Alexander and I found out upon our return from our trip to Three Eagles. You see, rather than having standard rates, Miss Beverly operates on a donation-only basis. And in our case, Miss Beverly refused payment of any kind, stating that it was her pleasure to run local trips for free because she felt the Franklin community needed hikers to help boost the local economy. With a big smile, she added that, regardless, it made her feel as if she was doing her part to help out. (In my book, her high ethical code elevates her to a station that nears “shuttle-driver sainthood,” if there exists such a canonical designation.)
Then, at promptly 11 o’clock the next morning, Miss Beverly arrived to shuttle us back to Winding Stair Gap, a manageable six miles from our destination, Siler’s Bald. Looking every inch the hikers’ cheerleader—adorned in leopard print velour pants, a black top, and a well-coiffed hairdo—she was ready to roll. On the way up to Winding Stair, Miss Beverly entertained us with stories of her past husbands and of current Franklin goings on. Then suddenly, as if a switch had been thrown, she began quoting the Bible in short, scriptural bursts that seemed to deliver the moral to whichever story she was relating. It seemed Miss Beverly had worked herself into a sort of spiritual frenzy, but somehow, the unexpected appearance of sacred writ in the midst of her monologue seemed as natural to Miss Beverly as her leopard print tights.
Alexander and I exchanged awe-struck glances as Miss Beverly pressed on. We were riveted. It was as if she had been seized by the Holy Spirit, and Alexander and I were her de facto backup chorus, chanting, “Tell it all, Miss Beverly,” and offering a solemn Amen! where we felt it was needed. As the gold Honda CRV bounded up the mountain, Alexander and I felt we were being transported in a spiritual capsule on wheels—one fueled not by unleaded gasoline, but by the sizzling power that had seized Miss Beverly.
Then, at the pinnacle of her story telling, Miss Beverly mentioned a recent evening of fellowship and cocktails she had spent on her neighbors’ outdoor patio, which overlooked the valley. These folks were from Florida, she explained, as if that should give us a clue as to what she had experienced. She continued on, telling us that during the course of good conversation and several glasses of wine a giant spider decided to perch itself on top of her right shoe. At that point, Miss Beverly informed us, she let loose a blood curdling scream as she kicked her right foot for all she was worth. Her scream nearly shattered every wine glass present and left her friends in a highly agitated state, she reported—and it was a good thing she had partaken of several glasses of wine, herself, or no telling what she might have said. (I had a few ideas, but I kept them to myself.)
At that point, Miss Beverly said, she began repeating her “life verse,” Timothy 1:7, much to the amazement of the entire company. She is usually not one to carry on, she assured us, “But that spider completely covered my entire foot, and I refused to be afraid!” The Book of Timothy, she said, was one of her favorite passages in the Bible, and Chapter one: Verse seven had long been a source of strength and guidance in her life. During times of trouble, or whenever she felt afraid—like the moment with the spider—she would quote Timothy 1:7. Then she told us that fear was nothing more than the Devil attempting to take us away from the presence of God: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind!” she exclaimed.
As we flew straight towards Winding Stair Gap, Miss Beverly firmly gripped the wheel, while repeating that line over and over—until, finally, Alexander and I began to wonder if she was attempting to school us with the potent passage in preparation for some forthcoming event on our journey. At that moment, the golden autumn sun illuminated Miss Beverly’s plume of white hair, giving her a radiant, glowing aura, and her shiny hoop earring, mirroring a brilliant sunbeam, shot a starburst towards me that penetrated deep into my soul. I remember thinking, suddenly, that we were in the presence of something greater, something brighter than just our endearing seventy-something shuttle driver and the mid-morning sunlight. The sense that something lay ahead could not have been stronger—it was as if Miss Beverly’s Honda had become our chariot, delivering Alexander and me to a moment of awakening on the Appalachian Trail—and yet it could not have been more sweet, for we were in the company of our very own angel, leopard print velour pants and all.
By the time we arrived at the AT trail head, Miss Beverly had repeated her “life verse” at least a dozen more times—so many times, that Alexander and I, having a bit of fun at Miss Beverly’s expense, quoted Timothy 1:7 back and forth to one another as we made our way towards Siler’s Bald. But to tell the truth, we had both fallen in love with that wonderful old lady. And to tell more of the truth, that would not be the last remembrance we would have of Miss Beverly, nor of those consoling words from the Book of Timothy. Although we did not know it then, our day was a long way from being over. . . .
Stay tuned: The Book of Timothy, Part II is coming soon!