I’ve finally started going over my journal/notes/memories from the trail and writing new blog posts (more to come!) This one begins where I left off last, in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania…
What a lazy morning! We sleep in til 7:30. Eat pop tarts while we pack up our things. Dowse ourselves in Deet because we’re in the thick of tick country from here on out. By the time we hit the trail it’s almost 9.
No sweat, though. It’s only 25 miles to Duncannon–tonight’s destination–where we’ll stay at the infamous Doyle Hotel. Plus, the trail meanders through fields and farmlands for the first half of the day. Oh, glorious flat terrain!
And what easy walking it is. We hike together for the first mile or so, then Chimney shoots ahead and out of sight. It’s impressive–it really is–that he hikes faster and smokes more cigarettes than anyone on the trail (we’re a special breed of athlete out here, I tell ya.) Hyrobics falls behind and I put in my headphones, listen to an audiobook to pass the mindless miles. It’s hot today, especially without the usual canopy of trees to shroud the sun, but I don’t mind. This break from the green tunnel is a welcome one.
After a few hours, the trail crosses a road and I spot Chimney sprawled on a dry patch of grass beside an empty gravel parking lot. His things are spread out around him, a cigarette dangles from his lip. I take off my pack and sit cross-legged on the ground beside him. Rifle through my food bag for something to eat besides a bar. A futile search, I know.
“How long have you been here?”
Chimney takes a drag, thinks it over, blows the smoke out slowly. “Half hour, maybe a little more.”
“Damn!” I say and whistle with applause. “What is that, five miles an hour or something?”
“Something like that,” Chimney says in his breezy way. Stubs his cigarette out in the dirt.
Hyrobics shows up and throws her pack on the ground. Heaves herself down beside it. She’s had a rough go this morning. Her ankles hurt. Her shins hurt. She’s exhausted. This long stretch of flat trail has beaten up my shins pretty bad, too, so we lie on our backs with our knees in the air, writing the alphabet in lower-case letters with our ankles. Stretching, or whatnot. It hurts so good and feels so awkward and we barely make it to “m” before we’re laughing so hard that we’re in tears.
We all seem to have lost our steam, so we lounge on the yellow grass for over an hour, eating chocolate bars before they melt and planning the evening’s activities: food and beer at the Doyle, followed by a visit to a seedy BYOB strip club on the outskirts of Duncannon (unfortunately–fortunately?–we don’t make it to the joint, after all.) It’s too hot to hike, we decide. What’s the rush, we say.
When the afternoon sun stretches our shadows long and skinny it’s time to go, so we pack up our things and walk. The trail climbs out of the valley and then we’re back in dense forest, hiking across a ridgeline smattered with boulders and brown leaves and raggedy undergrowth. Hyrobics feels better so she goes on ahead with Chimney and I hang back, taking my time because I’m all too familiar with this stabbing pain that I know means shins splints on the horizon. And fuck shin splints on the horizon. Fuck shin splints anywhere.
The trail quickly becomes a rocky mess, so I step precariously from one slab to another, pretending lava flows between them. The ground is hot! The ground is on fire! Games I play to break up the monotony of hiking 25 miles a day. There’s a storm brewing, though, and I want to make it to town before the rain turns the trail into a slippery death trap. So I pick up my pace, hop across the rocks faster as the sky turns matte black and the wind whips the blanket of leaves on the forest floor in frenzied circles.
A drop of water lands on my shoulder, another few fall on my arms. Lightning flashes purple-white, then the bowling ball boom of thunder. Within seconds, the forest is awash in sideways sheets of rain. Trees writhe and bend and branches snap beneath the weight of the wind and it’s a struggle to stay on my feet. (Later, when I’m warm and dry, eating burgers and guzzling IPAs at the Doyle with Hyrobics and Chimney, I’ll learn that tornado sirens were sounding in town.) Water gushes across the trail, but I start running nonetheless. I’ll take my chances with the wet rocks because I want off this mountain immediately. And am I even on the trail anymore? I scan the trees for white blazes but the rain is coming down so hard that I can barely see at all. The panic is rising and I want to cry but I know it won’t help, so I try to take deep breaths and tell myself, hey, at least the the trail is descending! At least I’m surrounded by trees! Surely I won’t get struck by lightning again.
Until, of course, I finally spot a double white blaze on a rock, which means there’s a change of direction ahead. And what do you know, the trail climbs straight back up the side of the mountain, the woods fall away, and I’m hiking over an exposed field of boulders as the storm rages on around me.
“Just get through this,” I tell myself silently, “and you’ll be in Duncannon before you know it. You can eat all the town food you want. You can take a hot shower. You can drink beer. You can sleep in a bed. Hell, you can even take a zero tomorrow. Just get through this.”
And, like it always does, the climb ends and the trail descends back down into the trees until it finally spits me out onto the pavement. I walk along the middle of the road, stomping triumphantly through puddles the size of ponds while the rain keeps falling, just like it always does.