“We cannot put off living until we are ready. The most salient characteristic of life is its urgency, “here and now” without any possible postponement. Life is fired at us point-blank.” – Jose Ortega y Gasset
“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” – Mother Teresa
Still a tad hung over from the ice cream challenge, I hiked out shirtless to face the heat and rocks. I once thought that Pennsylvania’s reputation for having excessive trail rocks was probably a little exaggerated. Surely it can’t be that bad. Well, it’s starting to get that bad. I don’t mind the climbs or scrambles over large boulder fields. My long legs are made for that. What is challenging are the sections with sharp little pointed rocks everywhere. There are several mile long stretches where every step is some sort of rock pointing up. This puts a beat down on your shoes and feet, not to mention your attitude and mileage. The other consequence is that you’re having to always look down to watch your step and choose the hopefully less painful rock to step on. So you tend to miss some of the trail scenery around you. I won’t continue complaining about the rocks as that affects my attitude and doesn’t change anything. It is what it is and I have to take the bad with the good.
Towards the end of the day I broke out into a clearing and walked a few miles across pastures and corn fields. The sun was pounding down on me mercilessly. After 18.9 difficult miles, I stopped at the Backpackers Campsite on the outskirts of Boiling Springs. It’s cool that they’ve established this little campsite with a port-a-potty in the woods right outside the town. The only downside is that it is within an easy stones throw of a very active railroad track. Like a Bruce Springsteen song, I was going to wake up at night “with the sheets soaking wet, and a freight train running the middle of my head.”
After setting up camp, I made two phones calls and left two messages to designated points of contact at a local church, hoping to get a ride the next day. Neither were ever returned. I then walked less than a mile into beautiful downtown Boiling Springs. I had driven through the town years earlier with Janet and it was every bit as pretty as I remembered it. I walked around the lake and stopped for a lasagna dinner at Anile’s Italian restaurant. I then stopped at Getty Food Mart to resupply my food stock. I returned to camp at sunset to the loud roar of a passing train. With my earplugs in, a tired body, and a belly full of lasagna, the occasional train roar didn’t keep me from sleeping well that night.
I woke up and pulled out the sleeve of mini powdered donuts I’d purchased in Boiling Springs. After eating the first two, I noticed the third one was covered in mold. Bummer! It will be awhile before I’ll be able to eat mini powdered donuts again. I broke camp, hiked back into Boiling Springs, took a few more pictures near the lake, and then hiked out of town.
The next ten miles out of Boiling Springs were as flat a section as you’ll find on the AT. If the elevation profile in my guidebook was a heart monitor, the patient would be dead. About one third of the day’s miles were in open pastures and fields. I loved the change of scenery, but that also exposed me to several hours of continuous sunshine. By early afternoon, at mile 1131.3, I arrived at the Scott Farm Trail ATC Crew Headquarters. It provides hikers with a much needed water spigot, port-a-potty, and picnic table next to an old barn. I stripped down to my underwear, got down on all fours, and took a cold, refreshing 20-second shower under the water spigot. I felt like a dog but that’s not a bad thing sometimes.
After a long afternoon battling rocks (which I’m not going to complain about) I arrived at the Cove Mountain Shelter. After hiking 22 miles, much of it in the open sun, I was completely exhausted. At the shelter I met Allan, a hiker from Colorado in his 70s. We were the only two there that night. After returning from my long downhill hike to get water, he told me about some of his many hiking adventures.
I was sitting on the ledge of the shelter when Allan returned from getting water. As we continued talking, Allan began taking off his clothes by the picnic table, just ten feet from my position. As he contrasted the AT with the PCT, he shed his underwear and stood before me completely naked. I’ve been in plenty of locker rooms and have seen plenty of naked men (myself included), but never one alone at a campsite in the Pennsylvania woods. It was awkward to the power of infinity.
He continued, “You won’t find pointy trail rocks out west on the PCT like you find here in PA. They won’t allow it.” He then grabbed a washcloth and his Nalgene bottle and began giving himself a sponge bath! It reminded me of what my 80-year-old Uncle Phil would look like naked and bathing himself in the woods, although that’s something I try never to imagine. As he spoke, he raised his privates with one hand and ran the wet washcloth under them with the other. He took the unfortunate washcloth to regions of his body I had only seen diagrams of in 8th grade Health class. I didn’t know whether to maintain eye contact (appropriate when someone is talking to you), or look away (appropriate when someone is determined to sponge off every single body crevice). I started to ask if he and his washcloth were enjoying the hike up Gooch Gap, but it was obvious they were. Ultimately, I decided to look down, pick at my feet, and respond with the occasional “Oh really? That’s interesting.”
The conversation and sponge bath finally and mercifully ended and we crawled into bunks at opposite ends of the shelter. I was tired and a little rattled. Allan was clean. Every single inch of him was clean. I’m sure of that.
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