Today is a soggy thirty miles into Harper’s Ferry. It starts with the infamous “Roller Coaster” (a 13.5 mile stretch of steep, rocky ascents and descents, one after another), which, while grueling, isn’t worse than anything the trail has dished out so far. After that, the terrain is flat and forgiving for the rest of the day. I hike fast and listen to music and try to think about what I’ll eat when I get to town. Try not to think about the fact that my feet are soaked and have been all day or that I’ve run out of food with ten miles to go and I’m so, so hungry.
The evening is gray with clouds and dusk when I cross the Shenandoah River and arrive at the “unofficial” halfway point of the trail. I’m tired and wet from rain and sweat but today is my two-month trailiversary and I want to celebrate this milestone with friends. I’m halfway done! Two more months to go! Bam! Alas, there are only a few other hikers in town, none of whom I know. So I get a hotel room with one bed. Peel off my wet clothes and socks (feet wrinkled prunes). Take a hot shower and scrub days of dirt off my sun-browned skin. Order a large pizza. Eat it in bed while Almost Famous plays on TV.
In the morning, I eat my money’s worth from the hotel’s free continental breakfast spread, then go back to my room and lie in bed in front of the TV. Don’t feel like hiking, don’t feel like being alone on the trail, again. But so it goes. Take my time packing up, resupplying from the slim pickings at the convenience store, eating a chocolate ice cream cone from a touristy cafe. By the time I hike out, it’s already two in the afternoon. The trail is flat leaving town, though, so I manage to get eighteen miles in before finding a flat spot to pitch up for the night.
My alarm wakes me at 5:45 in the morning and I promptly shut it off. Cinch my sleeping bag tighter and go back to sleep. Still don’t feel like hiking. Still over being alone. Decide, with a heavy sigh, to give myself a break and sleep in until 6:30. Later, take a long siesta when the humidity gets unbearable. Maybe even stop hiking before the sun goes down.
The trail climbs gently out of Caledonia State Park, and suddenly there are hikers everywhere. It’s Saturday, it’s almost summer, so this makes sense. I stop at a shelter to get water from a cold pooling spring, and a couple section hikers I met earlier in the day are here, rifling through the register.
“Tick Tock, look at this!” One of them says to me, pointing to an entry in the black-and-white notebook.
It says something about being over people’s bullshit, and ends with:
Tick Tock, you are my shining light! -Hyrobics
I look at the date written beside it: 6/5/15.
“Do you guys know today’s date?”
“It’s the fifth,” they say in unison.
“Seriously? Seriously?” I say incredulously. Grinning. Giggling with excitement.
They are serious. I wave goodbye and take off running up the trail, still smiling uncontrollably. Hyrobics hiked the PCT last year, too, and though we never met out there, we knew who the other was and shared friends in common. Then, over a month ago, we met briefly as I was hiking into Damascus and she was hiking out. I liked her immediately. We promised we’d see each other again.
The rest of the day’s miles fly by and, for the first time in what feels like a long time, hiking is fun. The trail enters a cool pine forest and everything smells like honeysuckle. I listen to the new Built to Spill album that I downloaded in town and play the song “So” three times in a row. It’s all fuzzy distortion and crescendo and perfection. Arrive at a shelter as the sky is turning pink and the birds are singing their evening melodies. Scour the surroundings for my new friend but where is she? Two young guys, out for the weekend, sit on a log beside a small fire.
We go through the usual introductions and they perk up immediately when I tell them my name.
“A girl named Hyrobics was here a couple hours ago. She kept going ten more miles, but told us if we met you to tell you that she needs you to catch up.”
“Said something about PCT sister love,” the other guy chimes in.
I laugh. Tomorrow I’ll catch her. Tomorrow, a friend.