The last few days have been the most difficult for me mentally and physically. The heat is kicking the crap out me, plain and simple. It’s so dry that during the heat of the day, gnats fight for a place on your eyelids. They attempt to land briefly between your eye lashes and your eyes, hell bent on siphoning the tiny bit of moisture to be had there.
When I stop to rest, which has been more often than ever, every insect within ten yards seems to take note. Ants, Yellowjackets and flies, all cling to your legs desperate to consume the salt-rich droplets of sweat to be had there. There is no escape from the suffocating humidity.
I walked into Boiling Springs on the 21st, arriving at 8:30pm. I was greeted by the largest Sycamore I’ve ever seen in my life, some of its branches well over three feet thick. It stood on the edge of a beautiful pond full of ducks, the bricked shoreline brimming with people.
Trail towns are very easy to navigate, and soon I realized the only place open was the Boiling Springs Tavern.
“Proper Dress Required.”
I read the sign apprehensively, and turned around. The manager was in the parking lot, saw this, and assured me hikers were welcome.
By the time I took a seat at the bar, a cold glass of water was handed to me, along with a pitcher to refill it.
“The kitchen closes in ten, but we’re happy to feed you!”
I ordered a medium burger, and to my great surprise, it was actually delivered medium. I engulfed it mercilessly.
“Earl Shaffer sat in the chair next to you during his last thru-hike. I had the honor of serving him.” The bartender smiled with pride.
He was a clean cut gentleman in his early 50’s, clothed smartly in classic bar tender dress. His manner commanded respect, and he was truly a master of his profession. It was a pleasure to watch him in his arena, working fast, but never appearing rushed. Dignified.
I thanked him and his manager for their welcome, and then walked towards the edge of town and the free camping there. Free camping in town is always sketchy. In Harper’s Ferry, the ATC campsite was next to the graveyard. In Boiling Springs, it was between a corn field and the train tracks.
The trains passed close enough that their lights fully illuminated the inside of my tent. The ground shook, and their frequency aligned perfectly with my first stages of REM. Around 12am a new noise woke me.
Two town locals were erecting their two-room monstrosity of a Coleman tent. The field itself was some hundred yards wide, but they felt a need to pitch fifteen feet away from me. They argued over the arrangement of this pole and that pole, and made more noise than fifty thru-hikers would have to accomplish the same task.
I have a few petpeeves on the trail, and trust me, there will be an expansive post on them some day. One of them is having my tent repeatedly shined at by headlamps, which they seemed to enjoy doing.
Nearing beautiful REM sleep again, I woke to yet another new sound.
“Oh yes Chris, harder!” She murmured, though murmured isn’t really the correct term for that sound. It took every ounce of self control I could muster not to shout out into the darkness:
“Yes. Fuck her harder Chris, fuck her, and then shut the fuck up!”
Dawn swept the field with glorious morning sunshine. Romeo and Juliet had given it a rest for the night, and I resisted the urge to collapse their tent on them. Once again, I walked into town.
I stopped at Cafe 101 and perused the menu. Suddenly an older woman asked if I was hiking the trail. Before I knew it, I was sharing the table with her family. Her husband graciously bought my breakfast in exchange for trail stories, and I had many to tell. They had two daughters, both in their 20’s, both gorgeous.
I sat with them for nearly two hours, only then realizing how starved for conversation I really was. They were wonderful people, quick-witted, with my same sense of humor. It made me miss home. We said our goodbyes, and I realized the day was getting away from me.
I stopped at the outfitter in town and picked up more Aquamira, then I set off toward the Cumberland Valley at noon.
The heat kicked the crap out of me almost immedately, and the gnats in my face were so timely I could probably set my watch by them now. I made it fifteen miles and decided to stop for dinner.
Ignoring my typical habit to remove my cookpot from the stove immediately, I let my noodles sit and simmer on it when the flame went out. Deliriously tired, I accidentally bumped it somehow, sending the scalding water and my dinner all over my legs.
I wasn’t sure whether to curse or cry, and I did a little of both. My quads were beet red and throbbing with pain. I briefly considered hiking on, but then decided against it. Calmer now, I made my trusty standby, a tuna and cheese burrito.
Sleep did not come easily, the mercury was above eighty until ten that night. I was thankful to be on a windy ridgeline, for what it was worth.
I woke at 8am the next morning, the hot air in my tent was stifling. Firebird shot me a text, her and Gandalf were twenty-three miles away. They hiked out of Duncannon at 1am that morning.
I have been trying to catch them since Harper’s Ferry, and I figured it would take an additional five days to reach them. I sat in my tent with the guidebook in my lap, again coming to that five day estimate. I missed my friends dearly.
Firebird and Gandalf have wonderful chemistry. They shared a canoe during the aqua blaze, and it was fun to watch what I had hoped to be a budding romance grow between them. It’s the happiest I’ve seen her on trail, and Gandalf is a great guy.
Lonliness creeping in, I had to set my mind to a new task. Quickly I packed and left, Duncannon was only thirteen miles away. With Zepplin in the buds, it was time to Ramble On.