Tuesday, July 20, 1999

We went to the post office first thing in the morning and picked up my food drop and mail from friends and family. I didn’t read any right away but pulled them out one at a time throughout the day when I took breaks from hiking. I am humbled and grateful for their encouraging words and for the financial gifts that always seem to arrive when I need them most.

I had thought of taking the day off to let my body heal, maybe even two or three… but on Saturday Llama’s friend is going to give us a short break in New York to let our bodies heal, so we will press on until then. My body and emotions just need to hold themselves together a few more days. The next 50 miles are going to be the most painful bounder climbing, ankle breaking, blister boiling, and skin slicing granite we’ve encountered yet. Bring it on.

We made it to the Eckville Shelter which is a small bunkhouse that was converted out of an old garage. It’s a short distance from the trail and privately owned. What drew us in was the thought of cold soda, ice cream sandwiches, and a shower. That really helped both Llama and I as our bodies are still so wiped out from dehydration day. 

Wednesday, July 21, 1999

A cool front came and dropped the temperature down making our day so wonderful. We practically skipped down the trail (Except we couldn’t because this is rockiest boulderiest section of the Appalachian Trail). Llama and I came around a corner of the trail and saw Sam-I-Am and Sidewinder sitting on some rocks with their boots off and slumped. They had hiked six miles and hit their breaking point; she was ready to quit. She was so angry and sad. Mad tears were pouring out down her face and I was probably one of the last people she wanted to see. She had grown a couple of little blisters, her first on the entire trail and the pain was stinging her. I just about laughed out loud when she told us that. I bit my tongue, I didn’t roll my eyes and I just did my best to empathize. I didn’t tell her how bad my feet are or how her husband Sidewinder has hiked most of the trail without any skin on his heels. I can’t believe how much that man loves her to not say anything. After a few encouraging words towards them, we continued on while they took the rest of the day off to let her feet heal. 

Thursday, July 22, 1999

Last night we spent the night in a jail. I would love to say that I got in trouble, that I was in some sort of protest, that I did something mischievous or ridiculous, but the truth is, the town police of Palmerton allow hikers to use station basement (which used to be a jail) to bunk, take showers, and play basketball in their gym if they want to. 

As we climbed the mountain and walked the ridgeline towards town, a hazy cloud settled down over us limiting our view to the trail we were walking and tripping on. There was no noise other than that of the wind. There were no insects, no animals making noise, it was just a wasteland of rocks and dead standing solitary ghost. If felt like we were walking on a mountain that had died and it was such a sad feeling. It’s what I think a battlefield would feel like after the fighting had taken a pause, void of sound or life. It was eerie to have the trail take us through such a desolate violent landscape.  We were glad when we hit trees and grass again.

The reason for the dying mountain was the mining and smelting of zinc located here 82 years ago. In 1980, the environmental protection agency shut down their furnaces and put the site on the Superfund Cleanup list in 1982. As you walk around the town and meet the people that still live here, it feels like the death of the mountain in reflected in the hearts and attitudes of the locals.  They are not friendly, they are just sad. Penn State has tried to help re-vegetate the mountains by spreading chemicals over the area to counter the poison the plant emissions created. The problem is that the soil is also poisoned so future trees cannot grow. One thing they are trying is Eco-loam, a municipal waste sludge of fly ash, lime, fertilizer, and plant seed, which is the tool they hope to use to save the mountain.

One of the struggles with the area is that there aren’t enough living bacteria to help decompose all the dead trees and brush (not even cockroaches and I thought they could live through anything). I talked to a few people in town and they said the government does blood tests and continually checks the health of those who live in the area. Some high school boys didn’t seem worried, “none of us have gotten sick yet.”  Lichens can’t be found on the rocks there which are among the simplest and toughest forms of life on earth. They are efficient indicators of polluted air and are even used in some urban areas to monitor the air. Many people refer to the area as the “moon walk.”

The Ridge-runner for the area told us there is a sign that warns people about not exposing children to the area for long periods of time. Sure, protect the kids but run a trail right through the danger zone. 

Highway to the danger zone, Right into the danger zone. 

Zinc (Zn) is used for many things that I would never have guessed, it’s a wonderful element. Such things as eyelets and grommets, siding, roofing, inks, paints, rubbers, ceramics, plastics, soaps, buttons, face powder, dental cements, explosives, soil treatment, toys, cars and countless other products use zinc. I used to use zinc in making glazes for my pots in ceramics classes but I really have no clue as to how they chemically helped my glazes. I know our bodies need zinc, but I guess to much is a bad thing, especially as I look to the mountains and see the devastation.

Friday, July 23, 1999

Today Llama and I planned to hike 24 miles. Our goal was to make it to Delaware Water Gap where we would meet a friend of Llama’s and we could take a few days rest in N.Y. I did fine for the first 15 miles but then my boots turned on me, no longer my partner working to achieve a physical challenge, instead they decided they were hungry and wanted to eat me. “Munch, munch, yum, yum!”When we got to the hostel at the end of the day I ripped my boots off and threw them as far as I could hoping that they would not be able to be found. I just needed to not see them and collect my emotions. I have never in my life had such raw blistery bloody feet. I cried out to nobody in particular, “I can’t wear those boots anymore, I just can’t make myself put them on again.”My next pair of boots are in the mail but they are the same size so I will probably have the same problems plus the added stiffness of new boots. I don’t know that I can handle this. I’ve been thinking about just wearing tennis shoes and that may solve the problem but then I remember Buttercup who is off the trail with a broken foot because she refused to put her boots and blisters back on. Others don’t seem to have this problem, I’m just not sure how to solve it and I hate walking with a boot that chews on me. When I was 9 years old I was swimming in the Rogue River in Oregon and my feet were nibbled on by sturgeon forever instilling me with a fear of swimming in any body of water other than a swimming pool. When I lived in Mississippi when I was 24 I ran through the grass at a park barefoot and stepped in a red ant hill. My foot was covered with fire biting red ants causing me to scream and forever want to find mirrors to burn each and every one. I would gladly take either of those experiences daily than to continue wearing my soulless boots. I’m just very frustrated.

Saturday, July 24, 1999

I came across one of the most amazing stories of guys hiking a very long distance. 

In 1568 there was a sea battle between the English and the Spanish in the Gulf of Mexico. The British were overwhelmed and defeated, three of their five ships destroyed. Two ships escaped, one pressed on towards England and the other had to put to shore because it was overcrowded and poorly provisioned. David Ingram was one of 100 seamen who was set ashore to fend for himself. The men all gathered in different groups and each choosing different directions to find safety. Richard Browne, and Richard Twide joined David, and began to walk north in search of English communities in the north, keeping within 20 or 30 miles of the coast. They traveled over 2,000 miles over the next year. They reached the fishing village atCape Breton, Canada, unintentionally becoming, if the story is to be believed, the first Europeans to cross North America. They were the first thru-hikers.

Monday, July 26, 1999

“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travels sake. The great affair is to move.”

Robert Louis Stevenson

For the last few days Llama and I have been having the best time talking, laughing, being silent together, hiking near each other, and wondering where this relationship is going. She’s been a bit weird though, pensive? Pondering? Nervous? She’s been twirling her hair and stealing glances at me. 

“What is it?”I asked. “You look like you want to say something, just say it.”

“I’m afraid.” She replied.

I didn’t know what that meant so I asked,“Afraid to tell me, afraid of something, someone? Afraid of what? I need more.”

“I like you and I don’t know what’s going on. I, I don’t know how you will take it if I tell you. I don’t know what’s going on in me.”

I didn’t know what to say so we just had a long pause.

She continued, “I feel like I’m falling in love with you and I don’t know how you will take it so I don’t want to tell you. I’ve been wanting to tell you all day but I feel like it’s too fast and I need to keep my heart in check.”

I didn’t know what to say, I was caught off guard. What came out of my mouth was,“There is no hurry to tell me, I’m, not going anywhere.”

It was so dumb but I didn’t know what to say and I felt like I had to say something. I know I should have told her how I felt but I was just so startled. And I don’t know what I feel but I do know that I feel something deep. And I’m very scared. I don’t know how to open up my heart. I do know how to hide all the junk inside me for a while, I know how to project an image of confidence and courage but that’s now what I really feel deep inside. People scare me and life scares me. I feel overwhelmed and I cry out to God a lot. Does she know all that? What about me does she love? Would she love me if she saw how truly weak and insecure and inadequate I really feel? Ugh, this is why I’ve stayed single, dating causes my stresses and fears to rise. Dating makes me feel weak. Is this how others feel?

My feet are so happy to be healing and they thank me every hour for not being inside the soulless shoes. Llama’s friend has been so gracious to host us and make us feel wanted. She has let us rest and has catered to all of our wants and desires, especially in the area of food, buffalo wings, gyros, lasagna, Chinese, and fresh fruit. We repaired equipment, read books, and swam in pools to stay cool. Llama and I went to an outfitter but the sales people didn’t have answers to our equipment questions. Instead they were asking us for advice and information so they could pass it on to their customers. That didn’t work how we had hoped.

I have a cousin who lives in NY so we set up a time to meet with him. He picked the two of us up and took us to Greenwich Village for Japanese food he had heard was amazing. I haven’t experienced amazing food in months and was overwhelmed with the flavors, smells, and textures. I was in pure heaven as I savored every unique flavorful bite. And time with Randy was just as exciting. He’s a surgeon doing a Fellowship in mouth and throat surgery, which he says is very sculptural, as opposed to the dish bowl stomach area where you fix the problem and just dump everything back in to settle. After dinner we went for a walk in the Village taking in the sights and sounds of the area, I asked him if he could check out my feet and tell me what he thought might be going on with the bone pain in my feet. He had me sit on a park bench so he could examine me. He checked my foot out, asked many questions, and decided that the most probable answer is that I have tendonitis, not a stress fracture. That is awesome, I will take that as good news. All I need is more Ibuprofen and get rest. And if I can’t get rest, just suck it up and ignore the pain, I’m not doing long term damage. When I stop abusing my feet they will heal. I have always enjoyed his calm presence, his kindness, and as I get older and spend more time with him my admiration and respect for him grows. I’m lucky to have good family.