My friend Mark picked me up at the Doyle Hotel and Bar in Duncannon, PA. He gave me a hug, little-realizing it would be cleaner to dive into a dumpster. He didn’t smell my hiker odor immediately but once in the car was forced to roll down the windows. Even when it started to rain he opted for a wet car rather than suffering my full odor. It had only been 3 days since my last shower – that’s hiker-clean! Mark and Annie were gracious enough to let me use their shower back at their apartment, and I got the hint when they later mentioned “you can take a longer shower if you want.”
It was great to see Mark and Annie for the first time in a couple years. They are very busy with work and raising there 1-year old, Jack. He’s a cool kid, and when he warmed up to me I drove him around the living room in a small carboard box just like have done for my similarly-aged neice Emily.
Mark brought me back to the trail and I soon met Hancock and Gypsy, two hikers from Florida. I had known them from trail registers, but not yet in person. We hiked the first 1000 ft hill together and I broke off to the shelter to get water. I met up their with Stripe who would also make it to the next shelter along with me for the night. There I treated my clothes with Permethrin to keep the bugs off. A couple days previoulsy I had gotten a bite from something I was hoping was not a lyme-disease infected tick. It kept me worried for a number of days, but now that I’m back in town on a computer, I’m able to pretty safely say my bite does not look like trouble. Stripe and I were the only ones at the shelter that night but other section-hikers were tenting around the place. One gave me a Moutain House meal which I gladly accepted. Mountain House is the high-end freeze-dried camping food brand. The next morning though I had to make an emergency run into the woods to pass the meal.
I made it 18 miles to the Rausch Gap Shlter and took a two hour nap. I was awoken by Half&Half, a fast hiker from Austria. An hour later Agent Orange and Engineer, two german thru-hikers arrived. I’m pretty sure these 2 were on Springer Mt. on day 1 of my hike. They are faster hikers than me but took some time off to visit Washington DC. It was only us 4 at the shelter that night and German language dominated. I took 4 years of German in high school but have forgotten much of it. One of the hikers kept saying “unglaublich” which I believe is the German word for “unbelievable” referring perhaps to the trail or maybe the silly Americans. I asked Half&Half about the German AT documentury I keep hearing about as the reason so many Germans are on the trail. Apparently it is a TV documentray shown on some German channel (also in Austria). It was on TV “every few weeks for a while.” It certainly succeeded in bringing the Germans out in lighting-fast hiking speed in warfare against the 2,178 mile trail. I’ve met about a dozen Germans – which outnumbers all other foreigners combined. The Germans are almost all fast hikers and carry no hiking poles as they are “un-German.”
I hiked 17.5 miles the next day to the 501 shelter and used the solar-shower which gave only cold water. But at least, I thought, this shelter is on a road with Pizza Delivery. Dismayed to learn it was Monday, the one day the Pizza place is closed, I about went into deep depression. Then minutes laters Rocky and Crasher came by with their dad who just brought them back ot the trail after a 4-day break. He was able to drive me to town and a McD’s #1 combo later I was back in high spirits, although still concerned about the bug bite on my leg.
The next morning I met Rocky and Crasher back on the trail who told me Jeremiah was just ahead. I caught up to him and traded stories of the last 200 miles since we had last seen eachother. With a rainstorm coming in I stopped at 15 miles at a shelter. After a 2 hour nap, Speedo and Peabody arrived. I went into my routine of explaining to them how I quit my job and was going into ministry. Their eyes lit up when I mentioned “Reformed Theology.” It turns out Speedo is a Presbyterian (PCUSA) minister. He had many academic degrees and was taking a break from ministry in hopes to affect change in his denomination. Among other plans he’s working to bring back the diaconate. Apparently the PCUSA generally no longer has deacons. He said deacon means “minister” in Greek and that the deacons should do the ministering for the sick of the church while the pastor (Teaching Elder) should be focused on Word and Sacrament ministry. It was his contention that the many tasks of a pastor took away from his primary role. I generally agreed with his reforming ideas but kept silent when he spoke of truth as a “societal concept.” I should have pressed the issue, but desired a peacful stay at the shelter.
The next morning I made 9 miles to Port Clinton / Hamburg for resupply. With another 15 miles in the evening and a few miles around town I likely walked close to 30 miles that day. The last 6 miles were on Pennsylvania State Game Land roads. Somehow the seasonally blocked off roads seemed even more remote than the AT and I saw more deer (2) than people (0) in that stretch. I made it to the Eckville Shelter and found Fis and Captain America who I had hiked with a week or so ago. I hiked some of the next day with Captain America and we even found a restaurant mid-day to take a break at. The end of they day included a climb over some of the most difficult rocks on the trail. The hardest section was called the “Knife’s Edge” and my pace slowed to a crawl. I camped out along that night and made multiple calls to family trying to figure out if I was going to get Lyme Disease with my nasty looking bug bite.
Diseases that have a delayed reaction time are the worst mentally. I’ve had no symptons of Lyme Disease but when I heard that a bullseye shape develops over the bite I was concerned that mine matched. I see online pictures now that it doesn’t match. It’s been over a week since I first noticed the bite, but sometimes symptons don’t show up for a while. Since I never found a tick in the bite or have had any symptons, I’ve concluded that it is a bad spider bite and possibly infected. Bad, but not nearly as bad as Lyme Disease.
I’ve made it now to Palmerton PA where is a free hostel in the basement of one of their government buildings. The whole town actually feels like a place out of TV’s “Park’s and Recreation.” Staying at a public building is a creepy thing for libertarians like myself, but sometimes “free” outplaces ideology.
I’ve been thinking each day “this could be my last hiking day if I have Lyme Disease.” Getting over this scare I’m far more motivated to know that each day is special and a massive blessing. Sure they are painful and tiring, but I hear over and over from people I meet that they too wish they could be doing what I am doing. I encourage everyone who wants to hike the AT to stop talking about it, and just do it. But you need to make sacrifices. I quit my job, sold my stuff, and am away from family, friends, and my dog for 5 months. I can’t get homesick because I don’t have a home, but I sure do miss the comforts of the regular world.