The small acts of kindness that keep us going
The truck whizzed by the shoulder, and a particularly nasty blast of road spray hit me square in the face, dripping down my jacket, my shorts, and into my shoes. I didn’t mind the wet, really, because I was already soaked. It was more the humiliation factor. I tried not to care and instead turned around and looked at Dad, who was walking behind me. The spray had gotten him, too, and all we could do was laugh, a bit wearily.
And then I saw a car pull over on the other side of the highway, and a man rolled down his window and waved. Dad and I exchanged glances. “Is he stopping for us?!” we exclaimed. We had to dart across four lanes of traffic and a concrete barrier to get to him, but when we did, he invited us in his car, not even caring that we were dripping water everywhere. “Where are you headed?” he asked. We told him, and he knew the place well.
The man’s name was Don Gauntlet, and without a doubt, he loves hikers. When he dropped us off at our destination—a nearby hostel— he popped open his truck and pulled out bags of food for us to pick from. There was ramen, cheese, chocolate, granola bars, and nuts. He even had a cooler stocked with drinks. Dad and I hurried inside the hostel to tell the other hikers there, and we all went out to gather around this man’s trunk. I’ve never seen so many grown adults get that excited over snacks. It was like Christmas morning.
As Dad and I have spent more time on the Trail, we’ve been subject to many acts of kindness like Don’s. Just this morning, for example, while trying to figure out how to get back to the Trail after resupplying in a nearby town, a couple saw our backpacks and asked if we needed a ride. We took them up on their offer and found out they were on their honeymoon! Their generosity astounded us, especially at a time when they were focused on celebrating each other. But as hikers themselves, they recognized our need and offered to help. We hope to see you out on the Trail soon, Gayle (PP) and Jennifer!
- You really can get pizza delivered to the 501 Shelter in Pennsylvania, but watch out – the mice seem to benefit from the luxury, too! We were careful not to drop any crumbs, but the bravest mice came out just before dark to search anyway.
- While at the 501 Shelter, we met Dave (Cap’n Dave), and we’ve hiked on and off together since then. He’s from the UK but now lives in Australia, so he has one of those accents that everyone loves. Despite a foot and calf injury early on, he’s persisted, and he continues to inspire me each day. Thanks, Dave, for making us laugh with your jokes and general commentary on “those bloody rocks.”
- Speaking of the rocks, I felt like they really started to show up around the Port Clinton area, and after that, they were with us most of the time. Not only were there large boulders to scramble around, there were sharp, smaller rocks that littered the Trail. Those were particularly annoying, because they do wreck havoc on your feet (and your pace). I became very grateful for any easy stretches that broke up the rockier parts.
- Palmerton, Pennsylvania is a great town to spend some time in. Be sure to check out the hostel at Bert’s Restaurant. Robert (Olive’s Human) knows the area well and provides slackpacks and shuttles. Grab a piece of Tracy’s pie while you’re at Bert’s, too. The blueberry peach flavor is the best, in my opinion (and yes, I did try multiple kinds).
- Usually it’s the snoring that keeps me awake while I’m sleeping in shelters, but one night, we all woke up to a porcupine gnawing at the steps of Leroy Smith Shelter in northern Pennsylvania. He was really persistent. The shelter log had warned us he might be around, and I was thankful for that warning!
- Speaking of wildlife, we had a few interesting sightings in Pennsylvania, including four rattlesnakes and a bear. I never thought of myself as someone who was scared of snakes, but after being in close proximity to a few rattlers, I’m not too keen on having that happen again.
- Crossing the Delaware River Bridge and seeing the painted border separating Pennsylvania from New Jersey was incredibly surreal. As someone who has followed multiple thru-hikers on social media to watch their progress, I was familiar with what that marker looked like. Yet when I actually saw it in person, it meant so much to me. As flip-floppers who have now made it through a second state, we are starting to feel like we have a chance at completing the whole Trail.
As we now tackle New Jersey, our spirits are high. In two days we will hit our 300 mile mark, and I feel fortunate to have had so many incredible experiences not even a month into our journey. I’ve heard the saying “The Trail provides” over and over, and it is certainly true. We’re living it every single day. For brief time periods, many different strangers have let us into their lives. We’ve shared their car space, their bunk space, and we’ve eaten their food. Sometimes I don’t catch their real names, and I doubt I’ll ever see them again. But they inspire me to keep their kindness going, and I will remember that small acts of generosity can make someone’s day. The Trail community is an incredibly special one.
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