I woke feeling as stiff as the board I had slowly butted up against during the night. Pitching next to the tent platform Airbud called home, was not without its hazards. My bivy slipped on its ground sheet, and by morning I was wedged hard against the 2×8 beam.
I packed as quietly as I could and made for the McDonalds, where I wrote “Town Stops.”
As I traveled back towards the community center, I found Crotchidile and Jelly sitting at a picnic table. I hadn’t seen either of these lovely people since Duncannon, PA. Jelly and I had kept up via texts, and I had been trying to catch her for at least four hundred miles. We met after her dog Mabel, followed me to the shelter before Boiling Springs.
“I don’t know why you’re following this man?” She asked. Five minutes worth of conversation at the shelter, and it started to make sense. We had some odd things in common. Among them, that all of our possessions can fit in a sedan, and we both sleep on tri-fold futons. She’s also an OT, a profession I’ve been considering for myself of late.
Crotchidile and I bonded over being thru hikers on our second attempt. He too had to bail out due to budget. We discussed this in a bar in Duncannon; he over a dark ale, and me over a dark soda. I’d totally hang with him off trail.
The picnic table we met at today, happened to be located in front of the Travel Lodge. Not one to invite myself, I spoke with my friends and hoped for an invite. Sure enough, it came.
“So yeah, I have a room. It would be $135 split four ways. It’s Jelly, me, and Airbud.”
I agreed. Those were hostel stay rates, and we wouldn’t be seeing one of those for a while. I had intended to zero at the community center, but the increased comfort was worth the cost. I also managed to create an $86 budget surplus from New Jersey thru New York. It was time to cash that in.
It was so good to see my friends again! Jelly stayed in the yard, giving Mabel a haircut, and pulling ticks at the same time. Conversation between us picked up right where it left off three states previous. I took a shower and then we went for town errands.
Crotchidile needed a new loofa. He and his previous hiking partner, Super Girl, had become converts to my secret cult. The cult of people who actually like to to get clean when they take a hiker shower. We carry loofas. The NJ Ridge Runner Sugar Magnolia is an OG loofa user too. Maybe I should cede leadership to her?
Jelly and I finished our grocery shopping, and she managed to find him the perfect one. It was a green plush frog loofa of unmatched cuteness.
“If he hates it, I might keep it.” She exclaimed.
Sure enough, he loved it.
Back at the room Jelly and I fell into conversation about spirituality, and then I told her about my sobriety. Airbud came in around this time, and nonplussed, I carried on. Soon though, her and I left the space. Utilizing the parking lot to dry some wet gear, we kept talking.
She was aiming to hit Upper Goose Pond in two days. I could easily make up the eight miles between us by then. I was glad to know I’d have someone to hike with again.
We spent the evening at the hotel pool with Crotchidile and Airbud. Chai and Pokerface joined us as well.
The following morning a trail angle named Joe drove us back to our respective trailheads. I said goodbye to Jelly and Mabel, and told them I’d see them in two days.
As I hiked back into the tall grass, the road noise dissipating with each step, a familiar sound returned. Again, the mini-vampires were back. This time I had a goal and a friend to catch.
By 7pm that evening I had hiked seventeen miles, enough to catch Jelly and Mabel a day early. Crotchidile opted to stay in town, but I spotted Airbud’s tent. He had made it to Shaker Camp too.
Jelly came over to chat for a few, but I was beat. As soon as my bivy was up I crawled inside and disappeared into well-earned unconsciousness. Tomorrow I’d be going to Upper Goose.