Appalachian Trail Mile 1152.7

Wednesday, July 26, 2017 (Day 84)

I woke just after 5am, well rested and smiling and dew covered. I packed up my things quickly, and hitched to the grocery store. It was a very easy hitch.

I purchased the essentials, as well as a can of beans and green leaf lettuce. I asked the deli counter to open the beans with their can opener. I thanked the lady profusely and made my way to the in-store dining area. I found a booth near an outlet and made myself comfortable and enjoyed my breakfast of lettuce wraps.

An elderly lady with a touch of pizzazz, donning pink pants, a pink top, and a pink hat of slightly varying shades –though all hot in nature–smiled at me curiously from the booth at the far end of the room. We spoke, letting our voices ripple over the three empty, vinyl covered booths that stood between us. “…and all alone? You are very brave!”

As I was heading through the parking lot to make my way back to the trail, I asked a kindly looking fellow to confirm my desired direction of travel. I thanked him and headed off, when he called out “Hey, hun! You need a ride?

“That would be wonderful!” I beamed.

His name was Bill. His heart was pouring over with love; it was a broken heart. He told me of his dear wife Hazel who suffered from dementia, and was now living in a home. He spoke of how his kids no longer wish to speak to him because of his decision to place her in assisted living. He told me to tell my father that I love him. He drove me to the post office. There he said to wait, that he would get the door for me. I was not certain if I had heard right, and was not culturally accustomed to such gestures…but opening the door myself may have served as an affront. I waited. He quickly came around and opened the door and insisted on gathering my pack for me as well. He held the weight of my pack awkwardly from its shoulder strap, resulting in a clumsy shift in his gate. As we passed behind his vehicle he spoke, “I don’t want to tug on your heartstrings, but I got this for our anniversary.” He was referencing his license plate, which was composed of some variation of lettering that read ‘Bill and Hazel’. I responded with facial expressions of empathy and love and understanding. We walked in to the post office. I told him where he could place my pack and thanked him. He hugged me goodbye. It was the first real hug I have had since I was reunited briefly with my brother in New Orleans, after a year apart; a sincere embrace.  He told me he loved me, and to take care of myself and to be safe. I told him I loved him as well. He had tears in his eyes as he left.

I collected and repackaged the protein powder and dehydrated black beans and nutritional yeast I had ordered online, at the picnic bench just outside the office. I then made my way to the laundromat.

The laundromat had been closed earlier, which was worrisome, but now the glass doors with their long silvery handles that belted round their middle, swang freely.

There were palm trees painted on the walls. There was no bathroom. In order to change in to my clean wool under clothes and wash my hiking garb, now stiff with sweat and salt and dirt, I had to slip in between one of the three vending machines and the wall. The space was a slender one, and the task was executed awkwardly, but was successful and free of witnesses.

I placed my clothes  in the cheapest of machines available, started the cycle, and sprawled out my belongings on the round wooden table in the adjoining room.

As I gave myself a shake-down, an older gentleman named Jack came in to the room. He had a slight air of authority. I apologized for the scattering of my things, which overtook every square inch of table. “Ah, nah. That’s alright, I’m used to it. I used to work at the inn down the street. I’m used to hikers.”, he said. He asked the usual questions about the trail and my journey and my being alone and if I was married and my age and place of birth. He wished me well and went on his way (which was not far, as he lived next door). He reappeared a short time later with food and more conversation. He said he had loads of stuff from the foodbank. I thanked him, and he left. He appeared again, this time with a walking stick that he had carved himself. I told him that it was beautiful, and that I would be honored to hike with it, but I already have trekking poles. “I tried”, he said. “Someone will come along that needs it.” He invited me in to his home to select a cereal of my choice. So many things, items, surfaces–all covered with a mezcla of matter, filling the spaces and notches in his dwelling. A TV broadcasted in the background.  I could sense another human, somewhere. I chose Grape-Nuts.

I went to finish drying my things. Wool socks take an unfortunately long time to dry out completely. Jack returned once more, this time bearing dried fruit and bars. Such kindness.

I then resumed the hunt for white blazes that scattered about town. This was fun, following the blazes through town roads and parking lots; spotting the blazes on stop sign poles and side-walk curbs and old buildings and freeway underpasses. With no decipherable trail, the blazes led the way.

I glanced down at the river I had just crossed. Atop the mountain, gazing down at where I once was, gives a joyous feeling; a fantastic blend of mobility and accomplishment and perspective and freedom. With a deep breathe and a smile, I hiked on.

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