It’s late afternoon when the trail spits me out of the woods and winds its way through yellow-green fields. Silos and red barn roofs and pastures spread flat across the horizon. When the wind whooshes, the tall grass bends and sways and tickles my calves, and thank goodness for the Deet I sprayed on earlier (ticks, ticks, everywhere!) The plan was to sleep near here tonight, on the outskirts of Boiling Springs, but there’s still light in the sky and my friends are camping only eight miles away. Do I have it in me to keep going and push thirty-eight miles today? Hell yes I do!
The trail crosses a river on a stone bridge and continues through the center of town, then skirts a man-made lake on a paved pathway. A young mother pushes a baby in a stroller, shouts at her tow-headed toddler to get away from the water’s edge.
“But I wanna pet the ducks, mama!” The little boy squats beside the shore, reaches his tiny arms towards a paddling of ducks that bob on the surface.
“Now!” The pretty lady says. Looks at me and smiles an exasperated smile. Wrinkles criss-crossed in the corners of her eyes.
Pull out my phone to text Hyrobics and let her know my change of plans. The sound of giggling nearby. Look up and it’s my friends!
“Tick Tock!” They say, climbing down from their perch atop a picnic bench. Then our second heartfelt reunion of the day.
“We got lazy. And we wanted to surprise you.” So only thirty miles today, but a damn fine surprise.
There’s an Italian restaurant across the street, they’ve already sussed it out. We slide into a brown vinyl booth and shiver in the overly air-conditioned chill. Put on our puffies even though it’s eighty degrees outside. I eat a heaping order of chicken Parmesan and spaghetti, tear off chunks of crusty bread to soak up all the sauce. Official member of the clean plate club.
In the dark, we walk back to the trail and set up our tents on the grass beside the railroad tracks. Chimney spreads his sleeping mat on the ground and we each sit on a third of it. Eat handfuls of gummy bears and smoke cigarettes and watch fireflies flicker in the trees like strings of yellow Christmas lights.