I woke up to the loudest song of birds yet and what I thought was a moose call but later discovered it was cows. I was very disappointed. And per usual, I woke up at 5:20 a.m. regardless of how hard I tried to sleep in.
Sprinkles got up as I was finishing packing and joined me at the shelter to have breakfast. She told me she normally never gets up this early and I was jealous of her ability to be able to sleep out here. Her trail partner Iron Man was still asleep and so I lingered hanging out with her until he awoke.
The swelling of my ankle had gone down but I still wasn't quite confident in it yet. I didn't want to make it any worse, but I had to get going since my friend Kaile was driving almost 4 hours out here to bring me my resupply and spend the night with me. Regardless of the state of my ankle, I needed to climb up to the airport lookout and down to Clarendon Gorge where there was a parking lot.
As I started walking, I began to pray in gratitude that my ankle was feeling better and I prayed for the strength to get to the parking lot without any hiccups. The trail between Minerva and the gorge was not nearly as difficult as I had anticipated. Some of the south-bounders said it was pretty steep but maybe because I was going slow it didn't seem that bad.
The airport lookout view was spectacular! Not only could you see the airport, but a long stretch of mountains as far as the eyes could see. There was also a tiny house tucked into the trees which was more likely a mansion up close, and a beautiful pond off to the left. My ankle had given out a few moments earlier and collapsed me to the ground. I ended up laying there for a while before moving. I was afraid that my body might actually be in shock from all the hiking and non-stop movement these last 9 days and that I might be in more pain than I realized. Maybe my body was blocking out everything so that I could survive.
But eventually, I got up, brushed all the soil from my pants, and made it to this view. I took countless photos and even a few selfies. Before this trip, I think I might have taken only one or two selfies my entire life. But when you hike alone it's kind of your only option if you want a photo of yourself doing something epic like this. I hung out for a while since I finally had service and contacted Len as well as Kaile and let them know I was on my way to the parking lot. I figured it was going to take me a while to get there and I didn't want them to worry if I wasn't there when Kaile got there.
Just before leaving the airport lookout, Sprinkles and Iron Man came by and took a few pictures of us. I could tell Sprinkles was a bit concerned about me walking by myself on my ankle but I reassured her that I was absolutely fine and left out the fact that I was on the ground only a few moments before she arrived. From that point on, the trail began its incline. Sharp rocks protruded from the ground at first but then eventually evened out to soft soil. I passed a husband and wife along the way. The wife had been doing a lot of day hikes and just earlier that morning came across a bear. She was still terrified over the situation and I had to admit hearing it made me uneasy. Her name was Sunshine.
I could hear the Clarendon Gorge before I saw it. The land began to shift to a steeper decline as boulders protruded from the pine-needle floor forest. Holding onto a tree, I leaned over to look down at the rushing water below. A very long suspension bridge was my only option for crossing. I walked up to the edge of it and examined the steel cables and the wooden planks. The bridge was very high above the water. There would be no surviving if it gave out. Such as my luck, it began to drizzle. A drizzle out here often meant a flash flood within the next few moments.
Sighing in acknowledgment of my predicament, I dropped my bag to the ground and pulled out my poncho. Then I placed my rain cover over my pack and hulled it back on. All suited up, I began to cross the bridge one gentle step at a time. And as careful as I was, the bridge began to bounce and sway with each step. By this point, I might have started to lose my mind. I began to laugh and laugh and laugh. I just couldn't help it. By to this point, there had been so many life-threatening things that I just cracked! I began to just bounce on the middle of the bridge like a giddy kid on an amusement ride. I was literally laughing in the face of fear and I couldn't control it. I took a few more steps and just bounced and swayed with the bridge, taking my time getting across that bridge bouncing as I went. And when I got to the end, I looked back and considered going back on. But by then it was raining, and so I figured I shouldn't push my luck too much.
The parking lot was very close to the bridge and so I stepped out from the canopy of trees and listened as the giant raindrops hit my poncho and danced in small puddles on the ground. I plopped myself on a boulder that allowed me to sit with my pack still attached so I wouldn't have to remove my rain gear. I tucked my head into the belly of my poncho and pulled out my phone. Surprisingly I made it to the parking lot much faster than anticipated. Unfortunately, that meant Kaile wasn't going to be there for another 3 hours.
Sticking my phone back in my fanny pack, I popped my head out like a turtle from my poncho and noticed a boy standing on the side of the road. He looked sad and miserable. And eventually walked over to stand underneath the trail sign only 5 feet from the rock I was sitting on. I said hello and we got the chatting. He was trying to get to Loretta's deli and then meet up with his friend at a hostel. But no one was stopping for him as much as he tried to hitchhike. He said it was a lot easier when he traveled with his partner because she was an older woman with all gray hair and people often felt bad for them. As we sat there in the rain, I contemplated what to do. I asked where the deli was and he said it was only about a mile away up the road.
"Well, I've heard people say you're more likely to get a ride if you're a girl or if you traveling with someone. Would you like me to try to hitchhike with you to the deli? I'm waiting for a friend and I'd rather kill 3 hours at a deli than in this rainy parking lot." I offered, confirming that I had indeed lost my mind. Hitchhiking, going into town, and talking to strangers were three of my top fears for the trip.
"Sure." He said starting to straighten up and not look so depressed. "Okay let's go then," I said standing up and walking towards the road before I could change my mind.
Cars flew by and that's when I realized we were standing on the side of a highway and not just a regular road. From time to time we put out our thumbs as we saw a truck or car pass by but that's all they seemed to do, pass by. I'm going to guess because we were two soaking wet individuals with big heavy backpacks. Eventually, we ended up just walking all the way to the deli. He told me as we walked that he burnt his pot 3 nights ago and so he hasn't had a good meal in 3 days. Everything tasted burnt. Oh, and his name was Chilli because he was always cold and shivering plus he enjoyed a nice hot cup of chili soup.
When we got to Loretta's, I was disappointed it was more like a convenience store and not a sit-down place. I was hoping I'd be able to wait for Kaile there, maybe charge my phone and write in my journal. Chilli dropped his pack outside the door before entering and I followed suit as well as took off my poncho since it stopped raining and was making me super hot.
All I wanted was pizza and ice cream. But when I got inside they said they didn't sell pizza. I was more than a little disappointed. They had subs and sandwiches as well as plenty of chips and snack foods, but no pizza! I felt like I could eat the entire world but also knew that was unlikely. I settled for a pint of Ben & Jerry's cookie dough ice cream, a fried donut and chocolate milk.
While we were shopping, an older man entered the store and asked Chilli if we needed a ride anywhere. Chili told him he was trying to get to The Yellow Deli to meet up with his friend and the man said he'd be happy to drive us. I looked at Chili unsure of what to do. He asked if I wanted to come. At that point, I just didn't have any fears left. I mean, of course, I was afraid, but for some reason, I just knew no matter what I'd be okay and if I wasn't, well... then I wasn't. I said yes.
I had been hearing about the Yellow Deli for most of the trail. It's owned by the 12 tribes, the same group that owned my favorite bakery in Plymouth Massachussets called Blue Blinds. Many people consider them to be a cult. But even if they were, they were some of the nicest people I've ever met. I'd even gone to their home to have dinner in Plymouth and had a wonderful time. I wasn't afraid of the so-called cult everyone talked about. Chilli hopped in the front seat and I got in the back. The man told us his name was Plans Too Much.
When we arrived, the driver introduced us to the Hostile managers. Chili asked if stripper had arrived yet. Everyone looked shocked that someone's trail name was that and curious as to who it was. The man said, "no, we don't have anybody by that name here." Chili looked confused and sad all over again. "But she said she was here. She's an older woman with all gray hair." He explained.
The two hostile managers exchange a look. "Could it be the professor?" The one manager said to the other. "Yes!" Chilli interrupted. He looked beyond relieved to know she was there. The manager began to check him in and asked if I were staying too. I said, "no, but I was wondering if I could pay to take a shower while I wait for a friend?" He laughed and told me I didn't have to pay and that I could even do my laundry and sit in the common room as long as I'd like.
Stripper, the 53-year-old Baptist, English college professor walked in then, welcomed to me and showed me around. She even helped me get my laundry started and added some vinegar to help with the stench. I later learned she got her name while volunteering on the trail. She was the fastest person to strip tree bark from the wood to make the planks that helped hikers get across the wetlands along the trail. Her name had started off as Tree Stripper but eventually came to be just Stripper. The shower was amazing! It was super clean, super hot, and fully stocked with all the wonderful naturally made herbal shampoos, conditioners, and soaps I could want. There was even a razor! Plus, when I got out, there was a whole closet filled with fresh clean clothes to borrow while all my things were in the wash.
I rejoined everyone in the common room and sat down in a real chair! It had a back cushion and everything and so I sank into it, allowing it to hold me like a hug. At that moment, I realized I did not want to go back into the forest that night. I asked how much it was to stay and found out it was by donation or I had the option to help out with a few chores like folding laundry and putting things away. I texted Kaile and she was totally fine with the idea.
While sitting there, I began to acknowledge my body again. I was literally in pain everywhere. And my feminine area alerted me with cramps that I might be getting my period a week early. And sure enough, I started bleeding. Before going on the birth control pill, I would often bleed whenever I was under high amounts of stress. It became such a problem that I needed to go on the pill to help regulate and since I had been on the pill, it was very rare that I bleed out of cycle. This was definitely a sign my body thought it was in a war zone. But I told myself I only had a few more days and that I would just have to deal with it.
We switched the clothes to the dryer. Since Chilli needed a new pot, Chilli and stripper wear on their way to the Walmart across the street to look for one. I asked if I could tag along and it worked out well since I needed a few things myself. When we came back out, we decided to explore the humongous farmers market taking place in the street between the Yellow Deli and Walmart. Rows and rows of tents held fresh vegetables, fruits, crafts, pottery, beef jerky and all kinds of different cultural ready to eat meals. There was even a musician playing his guitar with a cat sitting on the shoulder. It felt wonderful to be among all those people. A woman commented on my beautiful purple top and long flowy green skirt. I laughed, thanked her, and told her the clothes weren't mine but that I was hiking on the Long Trail and all my things are it being washed currently. That gave her a good laugh as well as the woman in the tent beside her who was listening in.
When we got back to the Yellow Deli, I noticed there was a juice bar two stores down. I was fortunate enough to get a custom blend of my favorites: carrot, beet, kale, and apple. Kaile arrived not long after and she was kind enough to take Chilli, Stripper and I to a few stores to look for a new pot. Afterward, we parked her car in the garage behind the Yellow Deli and carried in my resupply boxes. I went through everything in the common room and the now professional AT hikers had a fun time telling me what not to bring.
Later, Kaile and I walked over to the Hopping Moose bar and I finally got my extra large with extra everything Hawaiian pizza. I ate all but a few slices. Kaile couldn't help laugh at me as I told her to look away while I stuffed myself. She said she had never seen me eat so much. Which was completely true. Typically I could only eat maybe 2 or 3 slices by myself but at that moment I was truly hungry.
When we got back, everyone hung out on the buildings rooftop garden. There was a man named Tunes who had a hypnotic voice and played his guitar for us. Kaile joined in playing her crystal singing bowls that she always had on hand in her car. A woman from the 12 tribes group came up and give us all a small bowl of frozen cream with crushed berries and a warm ginger cookie. It was to die for!
Afterward, we all went in to go to bed. The women were separated from the men. There were 8 bunk beds, sleeping 16 in total and all but one were filled. It felt amazing to get into fresh clean sheets and lay my head on a real pillow. I was very grateful to Kaile for being alright with staying with me there for the night. She was truly the most supportive friend anyone could ask for.
As a trauma survivor I have learned to move forward in my life and heal from my past by exploring many passions such as spirituality, art, travel & herbalism. I hope my blog can help inspire healing in others and let them know they are not alone on their journey.