Day 90 – How to Break a Rock
How do you break a rock blocking your path? You don’t. Just go around it.
What if it’s thousands of rocks sticking pointy side up in your path? Same answer.
Pennsylvania’s rocks finally showed up yesterday, had a great time, and decided to stick around for another day. I think my Altra’s soles are starting to break down because after an hour I started feeling every rock I found.
I’d hoped that this pair would last until New Jersey, since they only have about 300 miles on them. Pay It Forward, the triple crowner I met around mile 500, told me that “when your feet hurt in the afternoon, it’s time to think about getting new shoes. When they hurt in the morning, get new shoes.” It’s almost time to dig out a new pair, but I’m not sure even a new pair is the cure for these rocks.
About five miles into the hike, I crossed a well-graded gravel road. I stopped to look at my map app and noticed that the AT ran parallel to the road for about three miles. The AT was rocky. The road was very smooth. The AT ran through the gnat-infested long green tunnel. The road lay under the blue sky where a gentle breeze and the bright sun kept the gnats away. The AT was narrow and overgrown. The road was wide and clear.
Both ran through the same woods, were closed to wheeled traffic, and sat atop the same long mountain ridge. The weather was the same – hot and humid. Both would get me to Port Clinton.
I took the road.
If Less Rocks is Good, More Less Rocks is More Betterer
For three miles on the gravel road, I cruised along at top speed. Just before the road teed back into the AT, I noticed that another, slightly less well-maintained forest road branched off to the right. That road paralleled the AT for another five miles, ending just before the AT dove off the ridge on the steep descent into Port Clinton. Why not?
I knocked out the eight miles of dirt road walking in just over two hours. When I set out this morning at 6:00 am, my goal was to reach Port Clinton by noon. By the time I rejoined the AT, I was set to get to our meet up point on the other side of Port Clinton by 11:00 am. Even betterer.
On the steep, 1,000-foot descent to the Schuykill River, I overtook a backpacker who called out something that sounded like “You don’t have to eat my shi*.” He hadn’t looked back and appeared to be shouting to someone ahead of him. I have some hearing loss. Sometimes what I hear is entertaining, but not at all what was said. So, I asked him if he was talking to me, and if so, could he repeat that.
He did. It sounded like what I had thought because that’s exactly what he said. I replied, “I should hope not.” But from the context, I figured that must be some hip way to say I could pass him. I did.
As I passed, we exchanged friendly greetings, i.e., like normal people, and he asked me something about berries, which led to a conversation. Somewhere along the way, he mentioned that he planned to walk into Hamburg to resupply, and I told him he was welcome to ride with us. So, we walked along together for the next mile and a half amiably chatting.
Lynx has led an interesting life. He’s traveled extensively, hiked all over the US, has never driven a car, loves dogs, has a nice girlfriend, lived in Phoenix for a time, was born in Cleveland, and knows tons of information about edible plants, especially mushrooms. He says he’s worked extensively in the cannabis industry, but only long enough to earn enough for his next adventure. I know all this and more from a 30-minute conversation.
If I had walked past Lynx in Portland where he lives “rent-free” part of the year, I doubt we’d notice each other. But here we are in the woods, sharing the same adventure. Here, we have the time, opportunity, and common ground to meet and get know people we might otherwise never speak to.
When I grouse about not connecting with people I see on the trail, it’s not because I want to bully people into conforming to my behavioral ideals. It’s mostly because I want to hear people’s stories. I want to hear about their experiences on the AT, what they’ve learned, and why they’re out here. Every person that passes me without a word is a book I don’t get to read.
I’m not an idiot. I get that some people don’t want to talk to strangers, especially to people who look like me. I get that people have different privacy settings. Most people I pass get and give no more than a head nod and a hello, which is perfectly fine. But when I see the same people day after day, knowing that they love (or hate) such an important thing like the AT as much as I do, I have to at least try to make a connection.
Whenever I get the cold shoulder or when people are downright rude, it surprises me, though it probably shouldn’t at this stage of my life. So, when that happens to me on the trail, my way of putting it behind me and letting it go is to sometimes invent little games to amuse myself, like giving them silly names, or imagining we’re competitors in a race. I’m not upset. It doesn’t ruin my day. My “victims” don’t even know I’m playing these games. I share these stories to entertain you, to illustrate how I’m coping, and because there’s only so much I can say about green leaves, brown tree trunks, and rocks.
I’m just playing. I spend six to ten hours alone every day. It gets lonely.
Talking with Lynx as we walked through the busy metropolis of Port Clinton, I went right past a turn in the AT. After dodging semi’s along the shoulder of PA 61 for a few hundred yards, I realized I must have made a mistake, so I asked Lynx if he was a purist. “What’s a purist?” he asked. Boy, did he ask the wrong guy.
I explained briefly and I told him I’d go back with him if he wanted. He decided that he must be a purist because he hadn’t skipped any sections of the trail yet. But then he decided that he’d catch that segment when he came back out after hitting the Walmart in Hamburg. We’ll see. If he doesn’t, I’ll proudly hang his purist scalp from my belt. Another one bites the dust.
We drove Lynx to Walmart, but he decided that he’d rather ride along with us to Starbucks. He didn’t seem the Starbucks type, but whatever. Then said that he preferred Starbucks because they have very hot water in the restrooms, which he liked for washing out his socks. So, I guess we also helped re-purify him too. And maybe I just gave you a reason to not use the Starbucks restroom sinks.
- Start: PA 183 (Mile 1205.5)
- End: Port Clinton/PA 61 (Mile 1220.6)
- Weather: Sunny above, fog on the ground, humid, heating up during the day
- Earworm: None
- Meditation: Mk. 8:36
- Plant of the Day: Thistle
- Best Thing: Forest road walking
- Worst Thing (besides the humidity): Being grumpy about rocks
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