Hot-pot, Cicadas, Sesquicentennial, Verdant Fields, and Disappointment
Hot-Pot is straight kill-ah
It’s easy to know that I will change my mind, but less so when I will do it. The first night in the Wilderness, my mind turned so easily. Moreso, it was surprising that I took 12 days off the trail and all that strength built up in the Wilderness was diminished. Atrophy took to me like a professional athlete deflating into the couch. The night before I left, the international students cooked a traditional Chinese hot-pot (it’s like fondue, but instead of cheese it’s with a spicy broth you let cuts of meat and vegetable boil). The lamb, beef, and vegetable went down spicy and left my forehead sweating more than my climb up Katahdin.
One day later after a train and ride from Mr. Griffin, I was back in Swatara Gap where I started my LASH (long ass section hike). Hiking the smallest flip-flop over the bridge north, I came back to start hiking SOBO for the first time. All day long hot-pot was running through me making me create the stuff. The smallest flip-flop was surpassed by the smallest nero of my life, .6 miles. Camping at the first campsite I could find, I couldn’t stop pumping out the stuff. Every seventeen years the cicadas come out to mate and die. This brood is called Magicicada. This horrifying sound of screeching fills the night air. They sound like the main title track from the Predator. I’m from Wisconsin and I’ve never heard this. Other layers of night noise are crickets, something that sounds like a faraway alarm clock, trains coming every 40 minutes, and my heart thumping. How the hell did I fall asleep?
Once one crawls out of any gap in PA, the elevation abides the gain of a table. Each step creates a fonder recollection of PA than the ankle breaking of the northern half. Allen Iverson’s crossover has nothing on PA rocks, seriously. PA is good for easy miles, but if your soul aches for challenges go somewhere else. This ease disconcerted me and held no thrill. Hiking has become an afterthought. Starting late and worrying too much about distractions has bogged me down in this section. It doesn’t help that the stuff doesn’t stop pumping out. A roll of toilet paper is shredded in less then twenty-four hours. I gotta make it to Duncannon.
The mountain descending into Duncannon is sprayed in spider webs and ivy. I’m in the eye of the storm. All of the Northbounders are north and the Southbounders have yet to catch up. Of course there are outliers and some LASHers. On a switchback down, a buck and doe stare me down. The doe starts screeching and tearing at the ground. I run to meet them yelling “I was running through the 6 with my woes/you know how that shit go.” They tore down the mountain like an avalanche. The Susquehanna is perhaps a half mile wide, but any long-legged person could ford it. Yet, I was fording through these spider webs on the bridge flailing my poles like a maniac at oncoming traffic, these Starbuck-sippers racing towards their cubicles in Harrisburg.
A sign at the beginning of town tells me where to park if I’m a resident or part of the parade. In earnest, I arrive early in Duncannon to abuse their services only to find everything shut down because I arrived on one of the town’s most historically important days, their sesquicentennial. Outside of the Doyle, I bump into Meal Plan. A head built like a brick and the prescriptive foresight of preparing his whole diet fourteen weeks in advance. He asked about the water situation south of here, he asked that about everyone though. We went to the Lutheran church to dive into a peach dessert affair. 50¢ peach pie can’t be beat.
Outside the post office I bump into Freedom, an eternal sunshine with child-like upbeatness. She’s the only person I’ve ever heard adorning the Doyle with kind words. We watched the parade: shriners spinning circles in front of the residents, marching band sweating it out, fireman throwing candy out, and other All-American floats. She escorted me to the iconic Doyle. Soon I learned the particular ways of Vickey the owner. Her husband’s in it too, but SHE is the operation. She is particular, but she is the salt of the earth. They weren’t feeling the hotel that day and I was surprised to get the room. Not much of a room anyway. No kind word I ever heard bestowed on the Doyle, excepting Freedom, so it was I built up a bad expectation so when faced with the reality I wouldn’t be let down too hard.
The front facade holds up a brave face, a reminder of its past prominence. I made it a habit of telling hikers along the way that I wanted to stay at the Doyle before it was condemned. It feels like I just woke up in a time capsule from the Depression. A rolling staircase ascends up four flights of stairs to many one person bedrooms. Each bedroom comes with a bed, dresser (no knobs), chair, fan, and a bare light bulb with drawstring. The community bathroom has two mats so dirty you would have to clean the paws of your dog. Large chunks from the ceiling are missing and the toilet flooring is reinforced so it doesn’t fall through. Luckily, the hot-pot finally settled as I came into town.
I enjoy writing and listening to bands as I sit on the porch. During the music, two middle-age drunks appear and sit down with their beers. It’s private property and signs are posted about not drinking, but it’s not place it’s Vickey’s. After awhile, she sits down at the picnic table and stares down the drunk (the other one left minutes before.) Her jowls a quiver she rumbles, “there’s no drinking here.”
“Oh, I didn’t know.”
“See that sign, no drinking, and you’re trespassing,” her eyes narrow on him daring him to say otherwise.
“Okay, okay,” he holds his hands back in peace, “I’m going.”
“You’re still here.” Leaving a wide berth, he skirts around her.
“I hate it when people trespass on my property.” Salt of the earth, man.
The verdant fields of Pennsylvania
The “green tunnel” rarely peeks its head out, but in fine form my soul finally perks up when my head peeks out onto rolling green fields covered in large golden bales of hay. I climb up one and snap a timed photo of me. Geez, the last time I did that was with my nephew outside the Flying Geese monument in North Dakota 2011. Most of the day was spent listening to Snap Judgement. Michaelangelo and Geisha (guy, he produces a hand fan that keeps himself cool) greet me enthusiastically at the Darlington Shelter. Two twenty-somethings escaping the service industry trying to enjoy their life haphazardly on the AT. The “unreliable” stream at the shelter is pumping out water and the Taj Mahal privy is shining dull burnt orange.
They teach me how to play Idiot, a card game. There is no winner, but only one loser. We play from eight until midnight next to a dying a fire. My namesake is attached to a new play called the “Bard Gambit.” These guys breath new life into me. It isn’t until I leave at noon, again. This has to stahp! I hike fifteen miles straight without sitting down. Walking in between cornfields and green beans is a treat. It feels nice to see for long distances again. A road is closed to traffic, but I walk along the burning new blacktop. It rages to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and I feel it’s heat waft alongside me and the water crackling in between the black rock. Just passed a bridge in Carlisle, I stop to eat some trail mix. It drops to the ground and I say to myself, “dang it Obama.” Just then a Northbound woman hiker appears the corner. Great.
Disappointment in Boiling Springs
Over the past couple day, hikers told me the great times to be had in Boiling Springs. Sure, it might be yuppy, but everything was great. Just as I had built low expectations for the Doyle and was pleasantly surprised, I built up high expectations for Boiling Springs. Arriving at 7 p.m., I found almost everything was closed. The Boiling Springs Tavern where Michaelangelo and Geisha had eaten duck and gotten white-kid wasted and some rich people paid their tab, closed. The Allenberry resort where Tim enjoyed house-like amenities with on-site restaurant and bar, closed. Another town closed down, expectations shattered, but it gets better (or worse). I walked along Children’s Lake and the lone swan displayed itself for me and I cheered up.
It was over half a mile to the campground and walk back to visit Anile’s restaurant. The train is a stone’s throw from my tent and between the stakes not sticking and the bear bag not pulling up my blood pressure is rising. Soft sprinkling dusts my shirt and I job the mile to Anile’s. I comically sit like a dope hoping someone will wait on me, the only person, so I take matters into my hand. I left my legs up while they sweep and mop under me with an hour left to go on the clock. The waitress that didn’t serve me is eating potato chips in front of me. Blood rising. Consolation in the form of Stromboli comes. Wait for it. Yep, the owner starts yelling at his employees about missing 40$. Fuck it. The only thing that holds me back is the gentle quacking of ducks sleepily going to bed on the water. I go to sleep with wake up calls every forty minutes from the northbound train.
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