A giant electric sign post registers 97 degrees F–that’s 34 C to the rest of the world, if I had done the mental calculation correctly, as I often do on this trek, miles to Kilometers, gallons to liters, Fahrenheit to Celsius, in other words, vestigial, stubborn anti British measurements units to what the rest of the world registers in metric, you ‘mericans! )
Anyway,the point is that it is hotter and more humid than it may be at the outhouse in Mephistopheles’s summer cottage. Clearly I am not hiking. Instead, the bittergoat is battling–should you elect to pardon the hypberbole–frigid temperatures inside this icicle of a library in Stroudsburg, Pensylvania, a 4 mile walk from my last AT check in, the Delaware Water Gap, the final frontier before I fist pump my way into New Jersey.
I suppose the phrase ‘ much has passed since’ might as well be the running theme for my blog for that is indeed the case. Much has happened and I’ll try, once again, to register some of the key moments.
When I had got back on the trail from Washington, DC at Harper’s Ferry I was, most of all, relieved to be hiking again. I mean, I do not mean to mislead, I adore town days and love playing the hikertrash townie, particularly on laundry days, sporting the latest in hiker-chic, when I strut about in tight fighting merino wool base layers–I fill out those tights, know what I’m sayin’! I was excited too to complete the four state challenge–a ridiculous exercise in hiker machismo where thru hikers attempt to cross 4 state borders from West Virginia, to Virginia, to Maryland, to Pennsylvania in one straight hike, usually within a 24 hour period. Crazy, I know, but exhilarating, too, the prospect of counting down the states to a couple of minutes of self-glorification around future camp fires. I was stoked for it; having already done a 61.3 mile day in Virginia I thought I would get this done without any major issues. I was well rested, had brand new shoes and my pack was somewhat light considering it was on full resupply. Except, the terrain seemed quite boring; an endless flatland punctuated by errant, ankle busting rocks, vicious nocturnal snakes and virtually no good views. More than that, I had just fed and drunk myself to a stupor in DC and not even the prospect of catching up with my bubble was motivation enough to consider the possibility. Still though, I gave it a go, made 21 miles by 5 PM to the Washington Monument and decided that I have nothing to prove or gain undertaking this mindless ordeal.
Besides it was July 3rd and I really wanted to chance upon some 4th of July trail magic. And boy did I ever.
One day I will dedicate an a whole entry, maybe two, to all the magic along this trail. This trail, from time to time, restores one’s faith in humanity. There are good people out there, folks, and often we neither allow ourselves nor allow others to be kind to one another for no apparent reason than to be just, well, human.
I strayed from the blazes for a chance at running water when I reached a state park in Maryland. There were rest rooms and picnic benches and plenty of sunshine to dry out my drenched socks and shorts–i wasn’t brave enough to dry out my underwear in public, i admit, nor was I ready to prance around in tight fitting woolen thermals among fourth of July frolickers in small town USA.
But there weren’t many of those people at this rather quaint and smallish park, save a group of elderly Korean-Americans who were fiddling around a BBQ, assembling a large spread of what looked to be quite appetizing assortment of greens and grilled protein. I walked by the first time, oblivious to their presence until the wafting aromas of grilled fish and roasting pork stopped me in my tracks. I looked over my shoulder with just a touch of hope but dared not look so desperate for healthy and delicious food with signature Asiatic flavours. Instead, I spent a few minutes boiling water to make my own Asiatic inspiration: ramen noodles and stovetop stuffing mixed with bits of dried vegetables, taco seasoning, chili flakes and my special spice melange procured from itinerant hikerboxes along the way. It was, all things considered, delicious.
I was well into my my hikerslop–please refer to previous entry on hiker linguo for an explantion this deceptive moniker for trail inspired cousine–when one of the elderly gentleman ambled his way over to my bench, which at the time resembled an especially disorderly yard sale, a sorry display of my soiled, sordid belongings, my erstwhile life, if u will, I carried on my back.
After a quick glance, William, as he later introduced himself, asked if I would join his party- of retired folk giving their children a break on this fourth of July-for a bit of lunch.
I wanted to protest politely, inwardly hoping that he would insist on my company but I dared not risk that nor offending him. I glanced over at the spread and gave him my best ‘I am oh so grateful’ smile. I would love to join your party, but please excuse my appearence, I wanted to say, for I stink like a thousand miles on foot. but, all I managed was that smile. I was more graceful, in retrospect, than I could have hoped at the time.
one should receive kindness when it happens, especially when it is unassuming and without an agenda. william saw and decided that he would share his company and sustenance. it was just that simple. social etiquette s and polite refusals were moot at that point. kindness is humbling, to offer, receive and accept.
I sat down to steaming platters of roasted meat, home grown organic herbs and greens, dishes of condements, spreads, purple and white rice pillafs, and copious amounts of korean chili bean paste and garlic kimchi.
soon, one of the matriarch of the group huddled over to me, dignified even in her hunchback, took both my arms in hers and pressed into mine a napkin and a pair of chop sticks. welcome she said to me with a disarming smile, in her abrupt english, ‘we are happy you eat with us.’ later, when I related this story to a friend, her remark echoed precisely what I thought at the moment: ‘god, I love people!’
That matron was the wife of the minister who happens to be an amateur botanist with a particular interest in edible mushrooms. he mentioned that there are seventeen different varieties of oyster mushrooms just in the Maryland area. he showed my the curatice properties of a medicnal, jowl weed or touch me not, the juice of which instantly neutralizes bug bites, even bees. they are truly a miracle, he exclaimed in an excited voice that betrayed his deceptively frail frame. he intelligence was fierce and shone through his otherwise kind eyes. he was simply happy to share his knowledge with me. later he would lead the group on a mushroom picking hike.
after I ate more than my fill, I asked permission to take all of their potographs and they posed like adorable children all huddled together in company.
wilson on the other hand had left to pick up a lost nebhour. he had owned a grocery store in baltimore and had been shot twice during robberies. still, it was he who ventured forth to ask me in to share their table.
there is magic in this here world, and it is the people you chance upon your trail who remind you of that…