Alec Kennedy Shelter to Clark's Mountain Road (Northbound mile 1164.9): Days 91-95

Alec Kennedy Shelter to Clark's Mountain Road (Northbound mile 1164.9): Days 91-95

While at Pine Grove Furnace, I switch out my default Oboz insoles with Superfeet. Though the trail stays flat and groomed for a mile after leaving the park, my feet still ache.

I spot a Luna moth, its delicate green wings peeking out from behind a blade of grass. Beautiful.

The next morning, I pass through the farmlands of Cumberland Valley. Acres of cornfields unfurl before me, accented with herds of cows and rolls of hay. The trail winds gently across the flat terrain: an enjoyable walk save for the insistent throbbing in my feet.

I turn into a parking lot in Boiling Springs, PA. There, I come across Darla, a section hiker from Maryland who wears a baseball cap over her curly, shoulder length hair. She offers me a lift to a cafe in town!

I ask her what brought her out here.

“I quit smoking,” she tells me.

I’m distracted by excited shouts as I walk past a farm late in the afternoon. To my left, a farmer and his son sit astride a tractor, chasing their cattle back to the pens. The son stands up, whooping as they circle back to round up a stray cow.

The clouds grow darker and denser. I hear the low, distant rumble of thunder. A sheet of rain seems to move across the plains. I stop briefly at an old barn for water, then continue on, glancing nervously at the sky.

By the end of the day, my feet feel as though knives are poking into my toes. The dull ache in my heels has become a constant companion; most of the time, I ignore it, though it causes me to hobble painfully as soon as I stop walking.

I spot Nighthawk at Darlington Shelter.

“Did you get rained on?” she demands.

“Not really.” A slight drizzle. Nothing more.

It had poured on Nighthawk.

That night, as Tenacious and I cook dinner in the dark, Nighthawk invites us to a family friend’s home. We’ll get picked up at the post office in Duncannon. 2:00 pm.

The Doyle Hotel towers over the houses of Duncannon, a skeleton of a grand building now grimy with age. Wooden boards cover the upper floor windows. I stop in to pick up my mail drop. When I enter, I find myself in a bar that doubles as the lobby.

Huh, I think, remembering how a friend told me the Doyle was the sketchiest place she’d stayed. I recognize several hikers enjoying lunch, though: a wiry retired electrical engineer named Orville, his daughter Trisha, and her boyfriend Ellis

Our host arrives by 2:00 pm, sharp. She is a no-nonsense ex-military servicewoman who ushers us into her garage to change into clean clothes before we’re allowed to set foot in her house (this makes perfect sense, seeing as we all smell rather…ripe).

“Your mom owes me big time,” she tells Nighthawk.

The house is pristine and well-decorated with photos. Military certificates and medals line every wall. An ‘AFG: I served’ sticker is proudly displayed in the guest room.

"Sometimes the things you're not ready for end up being the things you're best at...Was it scary when we were doing it? No! You didn't have time to be scared. It's only scary when you take a step back and think about it." - Nighthawk's family friend

After showering, we dine like royalty on spaghetti, blueberry muffins, fruit, pizza, and garlic bread. The next morning, we’re back on trail.

To my dismay, my feet show no signs of improvement. If anything, they hurt more each day.

I run into Orville as I eat lunch at one shelter. He shows off his new piercing and hiking kilt.

“I’ve gone crazy!” he says, laughing.

I try and fail to reconcile this image with the image in my head of electrical engineers.

“Do you think the trail’s changed you?” I ask.

“Yes…” he begins thoughtfully. “I can’t quite put a finger on it…It’s made me a lot more relaxed.”

I am limping by the time I get to the shelter. On the way, I sit down multiple times, waiting for the feeling of daggers in my feet to subside. I call my mom, asking her to pick me up the next day: I hope to rest for a week and return to the trail when my feet heal.

That night, Tenacious, Orville, and I have a nerdy, spirited discussion on AI:

“But if there were an Appalachian Trail video game indistinguishable from reality, what would happen to the actual trail?”

The next morning, I pack in a daze, knowing I will soon leave the trail for at least a week. I watch Tenacious and Nighthawk pack.

“Oh my gosh, I have a bug in my nose!” Tenacious suddenly exclaims.

“…Did you just say you have a bug in your nose?” I ask.

“A gnat!” She rubs furiously at her nose with a napkin.

A minute later, she looks down at the napkin and says, “There’s another one!”

I burst out laughing.

Man, I’m gonna miss these guys, I think.

Mom picks me up at a humble gravel parking lot off Clark’s Mountain Road. I enjoy one last bit of trail magic with Nighthawk. Then, I’m on my way home.

I miss the trail already.