My Terrible, Horrible, no Good, Very Bad July: Off Trail and Back

“Oh shit, you’re swelling up,” said Vibes half a second after I asked him if he had any benadryl. Four miles earlier something had stung my hand, and with no history of serious allergic reactions I thought nothing of it until my lips went numb.

This was in the middle of Pennsylvania, literally the beginning of Rocksylvania, where the trail gods suddenly decide to dump tons of large, medium, and small rocks, piled together just perfectly to make the going as annoying as possible.

Duncannon, the Jewel* of the Susquehanna

Days earlier I had waited out the rain in Duncannon, staying in the church hostel basement. That was an amazing accommodation and I highly recommend anyone stay there if you’re okay with sleeping on a clean floor. The pastor goes above and beyond and is very accommodating. The only downside is they use the space for Bible study on Sunday mornings, so we had to clean up or clear out.

I thought these were the rules for the hostel for a hot second and got way too excited.

Duncannon was certainly something. The Doyle is legendary for its cheap beer and hotel rooms and we made sure to hit up the bar for $3 big pours. I’m not certain how long that building can stay standing, but if someone wants to buy it, I hear it’s on sale for something on the order of $275,000. Granted, you’d have to sink many times that into the building to bring it up to code.

A view from The Doyle of mist swallowing the mountain as it descends to end us all.

Really, the whole town of Duncannon had a somewhat depressed, post-industrial feeling to it. Many of the wooden buildings were rotting and many of the businesses closed early or had strange hours.

The local diner was a great breakfast spot to hit up before heading out the day after the rain tried, but failed, to wash the town into the Susquehanna. I got a good listen at some local talk about politics mixed with conspiracy theories, but that’s to be expected in those parts.

The highlight of that breakfast was the owner of the diner getting a call from a friend somewhere up the main street letting her know that eight more hikers were headed her way. The hills have eyes indeed.

Leaving town was uneventful. I pushed some 18 miles and got picked up by family to spend the night in Harrisburg. Real hikers don’t sleep in the woods. Right? This was unfortunately four days after my dog had to be put down, so it was not the most joyous reunion. Hiking during loss you can’t be there for is tough. At the same time, hiking can be healing. Cryking is just a back look, but whatever.

Bugs, Humidity, and Rocks. Pick 3

I did avoid the double vortex of town + family, and hit the trail again the next day. With a late start, I grumbled my way to the Rausch Gap Shelter by the early evening. This was a lovely shelter with a spring right out front. Unfortunately, there was no picnic table, which I have decided is one of the greatest inventions of all time. Level surfaces to both sit on and eat at? Truly magical.

Ok, back to my big day with the presumed bee. I had another slow start, but finally got my act together and hit the trail around 9:30am. It was smooth sailing in the beginning and the day was not too hot. The humidity was another story, and my entire body was that lovely damp all day after 11am.

Apart from some annoying river crossings via trees and some ugly roads, the trail was totally fine. There was one climb slated for the afternoon and a somewhat longer water carry, but I made good time listening to my music and podcasts. Nearing the final water source before the 501 Shelter, I swallowed a gnat, which set off the butterfly effect for the rest of my day.

Big. Loud. Not what I’m used to.

For those not in the know, if you get a bug stuck in your throat and can’t budge it, you start to die. Your body wants to cough it out, but it can’t. Your eyes start to water, and because you’ve been so sweaty and you’re covered in filth, that salty grime gets in your eyes. Now you can’t see and your eyes are burning. The coughs are failing, so now your body thinks about giving a little vomit a try. That’s basically all of the bodily functions that side of a human can muster. Thankfully, I managed to get at my snack pouch and eat some jerky, which let the whole thing calm down once the whole natural swallowing motion kicked in. Woo. Fun stuff.

As this resolved itself, Vibes caught up to me, with his mother not far behind. We kept going another mile or so when suddenly a stabbing pain shot through my right palm. Damn, I thought. I hate getting stung. I hadn’t seen anything but a small white dot was growing on my hand.

I let Mama Vibes pass me by and caught up to them moments later near the spring. After refilling my water and eating a protein bar, I said bye to the Vibes family, knowing I’d see them in two hours or so at the next shelter, which was four miles ahead.

About 45 minutes later I noticed my lips were getting numb. Weird, I thought. Is this dehydration? I looked down at my hand, dreading the alternative.

The terrain stayed reasonable for those 45 minutes, but the rocks crept in soon thereafter. With 2.4 miles to go, I noticed my right hand and wrist were swelling, and my watch band was straining to stay on. Shit. OK, so probably not dehydration. Without a history of insect allergy I did not have any epipens and I stupidly had no benadryl. I pondered my options and decided to push the final hour or so of hiking because the shelter would have water, a nearby road, hikers, and possibly a caretaker. As I finished my miles, the hike got harder for me, and by the time I reached Rt 501, Vibes had caught back up with me.

After I asked him for benadryl, he threw his pack down and tore through it, eventually giving me three pills to take. I also realized I had hives all over and my lymphatic system was swelling big time. There was no cell service, but Vibes’ brother and sister-in-law were there with their kids (who I hope I didn’t scar), and they gave me a ride to the nearest hospital. This landed me in Lebanon, PA for the night.

Lebanon, PA: The Land of No Hikers

The hospital was great and took me right back, which is always a good sign. Actually, after I checked in, I asked where the nearest bathroom was so I could change my shirt. I was dripping wet and the AC was freezing. As I was packing up my backpack, I hear a pounding on the door. “Geoffrey? Are you in there?” called a nurse assistant through the door. Damn, they think I’m gonna die, was all I could think. I came out, apologized, and let them take me back. The staff took great care of me, responded poorly or not at all to my jokes, and had me out of there four or five hours later.

Those are the feet of someone who doesn’t have health insurance and who is geographically too close to home for travel insurance to help out 😉

I was stuck in Lebanon. I needed to get my scripts filled at a pharmacy, it was 11:30pm, and there was nothing nearby. After getting the hospital help desk to understand that (1) I was not a local, (2) I did not have a car, (3) no I’m not from the area, and (4) I have nowhere to stay, we worked out which hotels to avoid, and they found a number for a cab company that was actually very quick and even gave me a discount.

The hotel I chose was obviously gross, and I had to toss a condom wrapper that was under the comforter. Thankfully, I bled on the sheets from the cotton swab I didn’t take off, and thus had proof they changed my sheets the next day. I stuck around to get my meds, again having to tell the hospital that I don’t have a pharmacy and that they need to send the scripts to the Rite Aid I was standing in because they didn’t send me “home” with anything.

I got outta dodge the next day and made my way home. I made this decision because I was feeling crummy and the meds made me very tired. Getting back home, I stayed masked up, took my stuff upstairs to isolate, and took an at-home COVID test. I failed that test.

Now, two weeks after getting off trail, I’m hours away from being back. I’m skipping ahead to catch up with my original tramily, and I will SOBO the missed section after Katahdin at my leisure. Waiting on test results, feeling like crap, and waiting the days and miles slip away has been stressful. My Greyhound Bus had a fun little breakdown on the way up to NYC, but I made my transfer regardless.

The first bus obviously broke, but I still made my transfer.

Tomorrow I’m a hiker again.

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