Day 85: Trail Encounters and An Overheated Decision
My original AT dreams didn’t envision waking up in a Walmart parking lot. But Boiling Springs didn’t offer any good boondocking sites and Northstar wanted to visit the Mechanicsburg REI. Plus, Walmart offered cleanish bathrooms, free parking, and excellent cell service with which to stay on top our daughter’s situation back home.
So, this morning I climbed out of the van to a colorful sunrise over the Sam’s Club gas pumps and started my day. Yesterday’s rain continued into the evening, so I pulled on soggy pants and squishy shoes, starting out wet and likely to only get wetter with sweat as the day heated up.
On deck today was about 13 miles of relatively flat, open farm walking, followed by another 3.5 miles over one woody ridge to PA 840. Once there, I’d decide whether to add another ten miles into Duncannon.
I think I remember wishing that the AT would explore other parts of the Appalachians besides the tree-covered hills. Today, I got my wish.
I left Boiling Springs around 7:00 am under the last vestiges of yesterday’s rain clouds. After a half-mile of road walking, the trail turned off into a narrow, wooded area between farm fields. I spent the next 13 miles plunging into the dripping wet woods and emerging minutes later into gentle rolling hills thick with corn, beans, wheat, and hay.
The slick, muddy trail recorded at least one hiker ahead of me, as well as the passing of racoons and possibly a bear during the night. But I saw no one, and walked alone past family farms, some which looked prosperous and well-kept, and others that looked as if the end was near. Just past the edge of one field, I stopped to take in the Chambers family cemetery with weather-worn gravestones dating to the mid-1800’s.
In another wooded section, I passed very near what I hope was a shooting range. I heard a lot of gunfire but saw no branches or leaves cracking overhead. I’ve been (unintentionally) shot at before while hiking and canoeing and know that the only thing to do is either sit it out behind something solid or keep low and get the heck out of Dodge. This time, I chose the latter.
The sun came out by mid-morning, making the farm scenery even more picturesque. But the sunshine also ramped up the heat and humidity, making me appreciate the shaded sections of trail. I probably wouldn’t sign up for 2,198.4 miles of farm walking, but today’s path was a welcome break from the long green tunnel.
More Trail Encounters
Just before the I-81 crossing, I walked up on a farm stand selling fruit, vegetables, and other farm products. The produce looked fantastic, but I had no interest in hauling zucchinis the next ten miles. But fresh, homemade chocolate milk in a glass bottle with a foil lid? I had just enough cash for that and more than enough nostalgia and appetite. Break time.
Jake Tucker. As I walked into the farm stand, a thru-hiker walked out carrying his purchases. I’d seen this guy three times in the last three days. The first time, I passed him as he stood by his tent early one morning. I’d smiled and waved silently because of the hour, but he just stared at me intently with no response as I walked past. He was also part of the Pine Grove Furnace crowd. And he ghosted me when I passed him midday yesterday.
Today, he walked out of the farm stand shirtless, despite the No Shirt-No Service sign, which no doubt the ten-year boy running the register was too intimidated to enforce. I gave him a smile and asked, “Hey! How’s your hike going?” All I got was a grunt.
When I came out with my chocolate milk, I sat down across the picnic table and tried again. No response. He got up and left. That’s a little weird, right? I don’t know, maybe he’s hearing impaired. Maybe I stink worse than I think.
But we all know what happens to unfriendly people who don’t say hi and tell me their trail name… I get to name them. This one’s Jake Tucker, after the Simpsons character with the upside-down head. My Jake Tucker has a flowing beard and shiny dome. You shoulda said hi, Jake.
Gabby. As I left the farm stand and crossed the I-81 Bridge, I saw a young woman hiking toward me. This made four days in a row we’d crossed paths, and each time she was hiking south and carrying a mostly empty pack. The first time, I noticed her because she wore unwieldy hiking clothes. But I didn’t say anything because she seemed to be making a point of avoiding eye contact.
The second time, she passed silently again, giving me a déjà vu feeling. After she was gone, I remembered seeing her the previous day.
The third day, I saw her coming up a climb towards me and stepped aside to yield to the uphill hiker. As she passed, I caught her eye and asked: “Have I seen you slacking southbound three days in a row?” She walked right by, saying “Yes” as she strode by. Heck of a storyteller, that one, which earned her the name Gabby.
Today, as she approached, I simply held up four fingers to indicate this was the fourth time. I could see in her eyes she recognized me, but she mistook my gesture and gives me a girly, wiggly, four-finger wave. So, I silently mouth the word “Four” at her and hiked on past. She got it, but didn’t stop, and I didn’t say anything either. I’m playing the long game. There’s a story there and I will eventually learn it.
Jake Tucker, Part II. Just after I crossed the bridge, I caught a glimpse of Jake Tucker in the distance. This is Tour de France season, so I knew what I had to do. Thirty minutes later, I had reeled him in. As I approached, he looked over his shoulder and saw a white-haired old man bearing down on him, but he couldn’t hold me off for long. The shock in his eyes was a thing of beauty.
I thought about giving him the Lance Armstrong-Jan Ulrich “Look” as I passed, but I didn’t want to crush his spirit or be responsible for him quitting the trail. At least that’s how it went in my mind. In reality, I smiled and said, “See you down the trail.” He nodded silently in reply.
Northstar was waiting in the van at the PA 840 crossing parking lot when I arrived shortly after noon. She had the AC running but was losing the battle against the increasing heat and humidity. The forecast called for highs near 90F, with evening thundershowers.
I had the legs to make to Duncannon, but not the need. I’d checked the maps and the extra ten miles didn’t help my itinerary for the rest of the week. I didn’t really want to hike in the heat. And if I sat out the mid-day sun, I’d hike the rocky section to Duncannon in the rain.
So, happy with 16.5-mile day, we drove over to the Church Hostel in Duncannon and hung out in the air-conditioned basement, took a shower, and used the free WiFi. That evening, as we left town to head back to the trailhead, I passed a couple I’d seen on the 1,000-foot climb before PA 840 walking down Main Street. It had taken them about seven hours to do the ten miles into Duncannon, which made me glad I’d save that hike for tomorrow morning.
- Start: Boiling Springs (Mile 1124.3)
- End: PA 840 (Mile 1140.8)
- Weather: Cloudy and not hot early, then clear, hot, and humid.
- Earworm: Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing (Stevie Wonder)
- Meditation: Mk. 7:6
- Plant of the Day: Scarlet Beebalm
- Best Thing: Farm walking
- Worst Thing (besides the humidity): Hot, hot, hot
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