Day 85: Trail Encounters and An Overheated Decision

AT Dreams

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.

Farm Walking

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.

Heated Decisions

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.

Daily Stats:

  • 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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Comments 15

  • thetentman : Jul 13th

    I am glad you brought it up but you do smell.

    Did I mention there is a lake about 700 ft from my house? You are free to use it and our shower too.


    • Jon : Jul 15th


  • Charlotte : Jul 13th

    It’s a good thing I’m not on the trail with you. My trail name would become The Incident 2! I’m so disappointed at what anti social behavior some of these hikers are exhibiting! I’m making note of the farm stand because real chocolate milk is a great recovery drink for intense workouts. Add the nostalgia of the glass bottle the only thing missing is the noise the bottles made when the delivery trucks brought them to your door! Hope your daughter is feeling better! Your stories are great, and your age inspires me to train and workout a little harder…AT 2025

    • Jon : Jul 15th

      My great uncle was a door-to-door milkman in NJ. He’d let us come on his route with him sometimes, so I have the same nostalgic memories.

  • Lulu : Jul 14th

    We may not comment every post, but we are reading your stuff! Since SamCWestby just finished riding across the United State of America with his dad on Instagram, we only have you to break the monotony of regular life with a trail story or INCIDENT. Keep it up. Most enjoyable. You have a fan club.

    • Jon : Jul 15th

      Thx Lulu!

  • Quiet Man : Jul 14th

    I too am amazed by the “characters” you have encountered on trail…from judgmental to anti-social. Reflection of society I suppose. Just have to shake your head and move on…

    • Jon : Jul 15th


  • Mike Nixon : Jul 14th

    Jake Tucker & Gabby…priceless!

    Stay safe & strong, my friend!

    • Jon : Jul 15th

      Thx Mike.

  • CB : Jul 14th

    Sorry, Jon, I put this comment on an earlier post of yours when it was actually prompted by this one.

    Hike your own hike. It’s as simple as that. We all know that. And yet, some would put their own expectations and ways on the others around them. There are many folks who take to the woods to be alone, don’t feel like talking, don’t want to interact, and just want to hike their own hike. They want to live and let live, maybe. Some want to hike from a van. Some want to hit a motel every ten days. Some will only tent. Then, there are those who take offense when encountering these individuals and try to force them into interacting, or changing their ways and imply that if they don’t change, the problem is with them. I’d say the person with the problem is the one who tries to bully the other in that way. “Oh, how dare you not speak when spoken to? I’ll show you.” You’re an excellent writer, Jon. You have a great wife. There are other positives in your life that I know about just from reading your posts. Lighten up on your fellow sojourners, Bro. We’re all in this together.

    In human intercourse the tragedy begins, not when there is misunderstanding about words, but when silence is not understood.~ Henry David Thoreau

    • Charlotte : Jul 14th

      Thank you! Beautiful perspective!

    • Jon : Jul 15th

      Thx for the compliments, but you wouldn’t be trying to change my behavior and attitude, would you? You bully. 🙂

      But seriously, I think you misread the post. I’m just entertaining myself in a tough situation. No hikers were harmed in the making of this blog.

  • Phil : Jul 18th

    Hey The Incident,
    First, I like reading your posts, I live vicariously through them. And for me I’m a half n half introvert/extrovert. I now identify as an Invisible. When I was younger I was Visible. My preferred pronouns are Who and Where.

    That being said I get your quandary about wanting to interact with obvious introverts. And how you seem like a magnet for them.

    Who know what other human animals are going through. I try to tell my Dad this because he acts all extroverted to weirdos and then when he doesn’t get the response he wants, he calls them an obscenity under his breath usually “joik off”.

    I dunno people are weird bro. Too smelly and unkempt “on trail” for me!

    Thanks again for sharing your miserable experiences. Somehow I feel better about myself now. P.S. embracing the suck doesn’t sound good at all, for a few reasons.

    • Jon : Jul 19th

      Thx Phil. Suck must be embraced but it sucks.


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