The whippoorwills wake me before my alarm, before the sun rises, before the other hikers camped nearby begin to stir. I pack up my things by the red glow of my headlamp, quietly, trying not to wake anyone. Set foot on the trail just as the forest begins to brighten beneath the first light of dawn.
Everything’s in bloom and honeysuckle sweet and the miles fly by amidst a pink and white explosion of Mountain Laurel blossoms. It’s 9:45 a.m. when I arrive at the little general store at Pine Grove Furnace State Park. Give myself a high five in my head for doing ten-by-ten. On the PCT, I came by this feat often. Out here, with this suffocating humidity, with this steep, rocky, unforgiving terrain, putting in ten miles by ten in the morning is a far less frequent occurrence.
I take off my pack, lean it against the storefront beside a few others. Scan the patio for Hyrobics. She’s not here. But where?
Then a high-pitched shriek. I swivel around and she’s running towards me–this 5’2″ ball of excitement and energy. All smiles. Our reunion is heartfelt and loud, with lots of laughs and hugs and “I knew we were gonna see each other again!”
We sit in white plastic chairs at a white plastic table, eat egg sandwiches and ice cream bars for breakfast. Wash them down with piping hot coffee and ice cold coke. Hyrobics introduces me to Chimney, a lanky kid from Massachussetts with red flecks in his light brown beard and a blue-black Circle Jerks tattoo on his upper arm. They’ve been hiking together for less than a week, already they’re bickering like they’ve known each other a lifetime.
They’ve had a slow start today–only made it two miles so far–and want to make it an even thirty. I’m not sure I have 28 more in me, so they head out before me and we decide to meet up again two days from now, in Duncannon.
They hike out and I buy some snacks from the store, charge my phone, squirt pink soap into my palms and wash my face in the bathroom sink. Shoulder my pack and head out into the sticky late morning heat. Twenty more miles today. Tomorrow, a team!