An Unplanned Stop in Palmerton, PA
On day 20 of my hike, I joined my friends Blink, Lotus, and Cricket at the Eckville Shelter. Some shelters on trail are close to road crossings, and restaurants or other food establishments will deliver to the shelter. We had heard that Wawa delivers to the Eckville shelter. For those not in the know, Wawa is a gas station with premium food options (for a gas station), like pizza and hot sandwiches and boba and milkshakes. A hiker’s dream, basically! Wawa has something of a cult following among locals, too. One hiker boasted that he already had the Wawa app on his phone, which makes sense since he is from Toms River, NJ. I have a few family connections to Jersey and already knew about the glory of Wawa, but my friends from the South and Midwest were just getting up to speed.
We needed the Wawa app to get our food delivered, so Blink worked on that part while Big Willie Dawg shared leftover slices of his Wawa pizza with us.
I set my sleep stuff up to cowboy camp in the tenting area that night. Blink had introduced me to camping without a tent. Since I am super lazy, I immediately took a liking to the minimalist setup of cowboy camping. We were lucky to have minimal rain during our walk through Pennsylvania, so cowboy camping was usually a viable option because there weren’t many bugs out yet.
Once Blink had the app, we all took turns ordering our food. I got a southwestern chicken panini and a sprite. Cricket got a dragonfruit boba. Blink got a milkshake. Lotus got a chicken sandwich. We were living the good life!!! Cricket asked, do we want to go in on a 4 pack of toilet paper? Of course we do.
While we waited for our food to arrive, I took care of some chores, including throwing away my garbage in TRASH CANS!!! Hikers love access to trash cans so we can offload our trash. It’s an amazing feeling to ditch your nasty empty tuna packets and baby wipes.
Once Wawa arrived, we were in heaven. It was the most amazing experience to have access to this real food right from the trail. I couldn’t finish my entire chicken panini, but Blink was happy to help with that.
We hung out for a bit and somebody rolled the fattest joint I have ever seen in my life. Oh yeah, I should mention, I SMOKE SO MUCH WEED NOW. It is everywhere out here. They say, “grass is lighter,” but also, alcohol and hiking don’t mix very well, so people find other ways to have a good time. I didn’t smoke so much before hitting the trail but it’s a thing and I just roll with it. 🙂 So I got high and had half a bag of Nacho Cheese Doritos to munch on (leftovers from Big Willie Dawg’s Wawa order). The Doritos were incredible, but I couldn’t quite finish them. Night was falling and we were getting ready to go to sleep. I didn’t know what to do with the Doritos. They wouldn’t fit in my bear can. Lotus made a comment like, “Guess you have to sleep with them!” which I hadn’t yet resorted to at this point. Then she remembered that I was cowboy camping. “Ugh, I’ll sleep with them,” she offered, feeling better about them being inside of a tent, although I’m not sure it really makes a difference…? Also, there were a bunch of trash cans across the street from us that were certainly not bear-proof. The best practices in this situation, when we weren’t quite in the backcountry but not quite in civilization, were nebulous, and I certainly wasn’t in a state of mind to make particularly sound decisions on the matter. All of that said, the night passed without incident after I fell asleep under the stars.
A couple days later, we planned to hike a few miles to another shelter on trail. I was the first to arrive from our group, and I encountered another hiker that we hadn’t gotten along with so well. It wasn’t anything too serious, we just didn’t mesh, and I thought to myself, I think it won’t be ideal for us to stay the night at this shelter. Plus, there were a bunch of signs about high bear activity in the area, warning that we need to be responsible with our food storage. I have a bear can and wasn’t worried about my food, but my friends were not as careful. I got some intel from the hiker at the shelter that there were some nice tenting spots just down the trail past the water. I figured that might be the best option for us for the night, and made my way to get water. At the spring, I met Blink and Lotus and explained my idea. I also wondered if maybe we could get Wawa again because there was a road crossing 0.5 miles away. Blink hesitated to continue on to the tent sites which were located steeply downhill, feeling like staying at the shelter might be better. Then he realized that the downhill WAS THE TRAIL, not a blue blaze, and it was a no brainer that we should keep going, and heck, since we are right there at the road anyway, why not just go into town?! Fuck Wawa, let’s go to the Tavern!!!! I have learned that hikers really struggle to resist the allure of town food.
Around 8:15 pm, we arrived at the road which led to a tavern 2 miles away. It was already late, so we needed to think about getting a ride. We walked to a traffic light where we would try to hitch. Before any of us had a chance to put a thumb out, an older woman stopped her car and rolled down her window. She asked if we needed a ride, and we happily piled into her small sedan for the 5 minute ride into Palmerton. It certainly beat a 40 minute walk on some potentially unsafe roads without sidewalks. She told us that her name was Mary Summer Storm, and we commented, what a name! She grew up in the area and had hiked the trail plenty of times when she was a Girl Scout. She was familiar with the hiking community and was happy to give us the ride. After getting to the tavern, we ordered drinks and food and had an amazing time. I had a nice buzz going when 9:30 rolled around and the tavern in the small town was closing. It was around that time that we realized, where are we sleeping tonight? There weren’t any hotels within walking distance, and there was no Uber. There was a restaurant, Bert’s, that had space for hikers to sleep, but when I tried calling, the phone just rang and rang. We had to book that option in advance, it seemed. Blink and Lotus started doing the hiker thing, feeling people out for some generosity. We just wanted a place to tent outside, like a backyard. Blink struck out after someone suggested we sleep under the bridge by the river. I probably would have been on board for this solution, but it was unthinkable to Lotus, who was unwilling to go “full hobo,” and was working hard chatting folks up and trying to get a legit place to stay the night.
In retrospect, I had a trail angel’s number that might have helped us out, and we realistically could have returned to the trail and set up our stuff in the dark, but none of that either came to mind or was appealing in my mild state of drunkenness. But it ended up being fine, because a local woman came up to us to initiate conversation and ask us about hiking the trail. She was of course familiar with the hiking community having grown up in Palmerton so close to the trail, but hadn’t chatted extensively with any long-distance hikers. Lotus seized on this opportunity, chatting her up and then mustering the courage to say, “Weird question, do you have a backyard?” And Kelly responded, “Do I have a backyard? I do! It’s big, about 2 acres.” So Lotus explained, “We are looking for a place to set up our tents tonight. Would you be ok with us camping out there?” To which she responded, “Of course, I’d be happy to! But my house is far away, a long walk. Is that okay?” IS THAT OKAY?! All we do is walk all day! That is more than okay!! We happily walked with Kelly and her daughter Sydni to her house, learning more about them. Kelly operates a business out of her house doing permanent makeup, and has spent her whole life in the area. She pointed out a Dunkin Donuts that was formerly her grandfather’s auto shop. We learned that Sydni’s boyfriend set up a projector on Kelly’s deck to watch movies. Once we arrived to her house, Kelly extended us so much hospitality, giving us water and wine and letting us use her bathroom. We all hung out together on the deck watching “The Hangover” until the wee hours. Click here for a peek at our sweet deck hangout!
Kelly had a fabulous backyard, but it was on a steep hill, unsuitable for tent camping. Thankfully her huge deck would accommodate us cowboy camping, and the weather was perfectly suitable for sleeping without a tent. Lotus would get her first cowboy camping experience that night whether she liked it or not! As we were preparing to sleep, Kelly asked us if we needed anything else, more wine? Champagne? Xanax, Adderall? We were good, we assured her, and thanked her profusely. She brought out some fluffy pink blankets for us to use, and I was amused putting this over my quilt when I went to sleep. That night, I slept great on Kelly’s deck!
When I woke up in the morning, I found Lotus gone from my side where she had set up the night before. She informed me that Blink and I were snoring and she had to get away from us. We apologized. I’ve since learned that I don’t typically snore unless I’ve been drinking. Good to know.
Sydni offered us coffee which we gladly accepted. We packed our things and said goodbye, thanking our hosts profusely for their generosity. Once we left, Lotus joked that Kelly should open up a hostel called “Backpacks and Botox.” We laughed at the stark contrast between our worlds, but appreciated how we could all come together and enjoy a nice movie night.
We stopped at a gas station for resupply and I loaded up on junk food, which I have discovered I love dearly. After that, we walked to Bert’s, where we would have breakfast before hitting the trail again. As we walked, I commented on how unfortunate the timing of our revelry was. We were about to hike up a notoriously difficult stretch of trail, and had to carry a bunch of water through this dry stretch. It was hot and humid and the climb was over some fully exposed rock. Not to mention I was hungover and sleep deprived, and BAM! Before I knew it I was on the ground. My friends helped me up, and I knew it wasn’t good. Blink commented that a sheet of my skin was on the sidewalk, and Lotus said she could see my fascia (she’s a nurse). Great news. The knee that wasn’t skinned had gotten bruised from the fall. I was a little messed up after that.
Most hikers don’t suffer deep flesh wounds from being on trail. In that sense, you could consider this a freak accident. But there’s a connection to the trail even though it happened in town. Before setting out to hike the AT, I knew that my feet might grow because of how much walking I would be doing. And they did. That morning in Palmerton on Kelly’s deck, I looked at my too tight shoes, and the thought of putting them on to walk through town was unbearable. I wore my slides instead, and I paid the price. I had to walk about 70 trail miles in too tight shoes before I had access to a shoe store that could fit me for better ones, which I did when reaching Delaware Water Gap a couple days later.
That day in Palmerton after eating shit on the sidewalk, I decided to wait until after breakfast to see if I would be up for hitting the trail with a significant flesh wound. I put my leg up while eating the greatest breakfast I’ve ever had at Bert’s, the restaurant in town where hikers can stay the night. Those pancakes were crispy around the edges, as were the homefries. It was sublime.
My wound wasn’t really clotting, but wasn’t gushing blood either, so I decided I would try to hike on. Injury is hard to avoid completely while on trail, and I was fortunate that this was an injury I could hike on. Lotus hooked me up with some gauze and I took ibuprofen. She went to the post office for a package and Blink and I chatted a bit. He felt bad about my wounds. I said that I’m always trying to figure out what the trail is trying to teach me in these moments. In this case I realized that in the midst of my bitching and moaning about my circumstances, it was still possible for things to get worse. As I move along the trail, this event helps me reframe tough circumstances and see how maybe they’re not that bad.
The day through Lehigh Gap may have been one of the toughest for me on trail yet considering the circumstances, but I got through it. My flesh wound has healed greatly, but as of the time of writing this, is still healing and not fully closed, 29 days later. But it’s getting there! I’ll keep y’all posted! And the great news is that it has helped me be more careful. I haven’t fallen down since I got it.
It’s possible I wouldn’t have gotten injured if I had just stayed on trail as planned instead of going to Palmerton. But I still wouldn’t change it for anything, as it was a highlight of my time on trail so far!
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