I heard the road noise in the distance. The blessing and curse of the trail in PA is its proximity to roads and towns. The trail is rarely void of the distant hum of traffic.
I was making my way down a no bullshit arrangement of steps, to the left of which was a sloping field of rocks, which descended sharply some hundred feet. I had already taken a near tumble at the start of this section of trail, and found myself much more focused now.
My mission today was to grace the halls of the most famous and beloved eyesore the AT, the famous Doyle hotel. When I made my decision to quit drinking for the rest of the trail, I had already put this one exception in mind. Stopping for a drink at the Doyle is tradition.
I first heard about this place in Hampton, VA. Fellow hiker Nine-Lives and Alex, the caretaker of Braemar Castle Hostel, were arguing about it.
“Have a beer there, but DO NOT stay there.” Alex cautioned.
“Oh it’s not that bad! It’s a charming little place, just a bit run down.” Nine-Lives interjected.
Alex shook his head and the argument continued. The three of us were pretty drunk, the only guests at the Castle that night.
Alex went to bed and I discussed Japanese history with Nine-Lives; particularly the similarities between the Tokugawa Shogunate and France when Louis XIV was in power. This led to a conversation about the French Foreign Legion.
The next morning Nine-Lives lamented that I had missed my calling.
“You should have a PH.D. in History, and be teaching in a college somewhere. Instead, I’m afraid, you pissed your twenties away working retail!”
Nine-Lives is wonderfully caustic like that. I took the compliment and held my tongue. It wasn’t worth an argument. This retired patent lawyer had handed me his card the night before, and the Fifth Avenue, NYC address did not go unnoticed.
That he owned three Lotus sports cars, yet never spoke of a wife or any significant other did not go unnoticed either.
Sitting at the bar in the Doyle now, I cheered my absent friend with a 22oz Yuengling. Two Nobo’s and a Sobo sectioner sat at the table behind me. I probed the Sobo for the water situation to the north. The bartender offered to fill my water bottles, as I had intended to leave town that evening.
She looked at the bottles, then back at me. One was a Smartwater bottle I’ve carried since Springer, the other a random V8 bottle with 500 miles on it.
“Sweety, these are fuzzy!”
I smiled back, too many miles on my legs to be embarrassed, as she washed them out thoroughly and filled them.
I continued my amble through town, and stopped at the corner of a building. There was a sign and a cooler of Gatorade. The sign warned hikers to stay hydrated.
Trail Angel Mary was on the balcony watering her plants. She asked my trail name, and I asked where to find the best food in town.
She smiled down at me and replied:
“In my kitchen.”
She offered to let me sleep on her living room floor, and I gratefully accepted, the thought of AC putting a smile on my face. A shrimp boil was on the brew, with sausage, potatoes, ramps, and corn. Two hikers were already seated for dinner and I awkwardly began to make myself at home.
The three others from the Doyle arrived with Yuengling in tow. We said grace and ate as hikers eat, quietly and with much enthusiasm. I did the dishes and Chinaman handed me a beer. His fellow Nobo friend was Goose, and the Sobo was a Brit named Red-Jack.
It happened to be Mary’s birthday, and Red-Jack bought her a card while out for errands. The five of us signed it, wished her a happy birthday, and thanked her for a wonderful meal.
I hadn’t heard of Trail Angel Mary before reaching Duncannon, but she is quite the trail legend. The walls of her home are covered in pictures of hikers from past years, going back at least a decade. She had a copy of AWOL’s novel on shelf. Upon further inspection I noticed it was signed by David Miller, with a personal message to her. Very cool to say the least!
I woke up this morning miraculasly less hung over than my mates. We almost got into a bar fight with some locals after dinner, but that is a story for another time.