Saturday June 11th, 2011
first light of the morning seeped through the curtains and filled the
room with a soft glow. I stared at clinging white lint on the futon's
black fabric. I closed my eyes and curled into a fleece blanket as I
pulled it against my chin. I nuzzled it with the tip of my nose and
smelled detergent. Again I opened my eyes and stared until the pieces of
lint came into focus.
yawned, stretched my back and rolled over. There was a single bar of
light coming through the bottom of the curtained window; speckled dust
passed through it, a million bright ambassadors of morning. My hiking
pack lay upon the floor. My boots were next to the pack with a pair of
socks on top of them. Underneath the blanket, I remembered I was already
wearing my hiking clothes.
yawned again, wiped the sleep from my eyes, and jumped out of bed onto
my feet. Quickly I moved around the room folding the blanket, putting my
boots on, and readying my pack. As I walked around, the Achilles tendon
on my right foot creaked and stretched while it woke up with me. I sat
down long enough to write a thank you note to Jun for letting me stay
for the night.
I walked to Jun's room. Though the door was open, I lightly knocked and
Jun woke up. Somehow I felt uncomfortable being there, even though he
made dinner, gave me a place to sleep and a shower to use. While I
descended the wooden stairs of Jun's second floor apartment, he waved
goodbye from the doorway.
it was the early hours or my aching tendons, but the sidewalks that
morning felt particularly coarse on my body. Each step sent a shock
through my body, up from my foot to my knees, hips, chest, and shoulders
until it tingled from my fingertips like a nervous jitter from drinking
three cups of coffee, perhaps leaving a bitter taste upon my tongue.
the trail head, the old train station stood like a guard post of the
year 1891. It was closed as I approached, not a soul in sight, yet I
imagined ethereal men garnered in topcoats and striped trousers watching
the seconds of a pocket watch tick by to the nervous twitch of a curled
mustache, and women adorned in lace and tweed sat fashionably upright
at a bench's edge supported by a corset accentuating their hourglass
unstrapped my pack and swung it onto a bench; already sweat had damped
my shirt underneath my shoulder straps and at the small of my back.
Perhaps as a lady disapprovingly stared underneath her wide-brimmed hat
as she caught a wiff of my hiker odour. I took a couple trail bars from
my pack, ate one, and put the other in my waist pocket. I took a drink
from a nearly empty canteen that I had forgotten to fill.
solitary biker went by as I ate a honey oat trail bar. The trail was
quiet when I heard the sound of trickling water. Across the tracks,
there was a spring flowing down an embankment into a ditch along the
railway. I wondered how odd it would look to bend down and fill my
bottles from the stream as I looked up and down the path. I imagined
myself caught unaware by a passing jogger as I crouched near the river.
Would I jump up and run into the brush?
Carefully placing pack next to the path, I took my filter and bottles and crossed the railroad tracks to the stream.
returned to my pack as a morning jogger went by. In my hands, water
beaded on the surface of the cold metal bottles and then dripped to the
pavement. I said a hello as she went by. She jogged off with her back to
me as her calves tensed and relaxed in rhythm. I took some snacks out –
pringles chips and a jar of peanut butter – and I lay down on the grass
using my pack as a pillow.
I reclined upon the grass, a deer came out of the brush. It poked it's
hooves at the soil near the trail. I sat silently, unmoving. Slowly I
moved an arm toward the side pocket of my pack, reaching for my camera.
The metal zipper jingled and the deer looked up. A good distance off,
the deer didn't startle and run. The deer watched me knowing it could quickly
escape, perhaps posing for all of my photos. When three yellow birds
with black wings swooped over in formation I quickly snapped several
photos, hoping to capture that moment you gaze over in a magazine, yet
the camera panned too fast and I merely captured a blur.
I packed up and moved on. As I walked the chilled hours of the morning
turned into hot midday hours. With a phone fully charged from Jun's, I
called my parents to let them know I was alive and healthy. To let them
know that I didn't wander off to disappear, and to let them know I was
coming up on Cumberland, MD just in case something went wrong and they
didn't hear from me. My father said he could hear the crunch of the
gravel of the trail as I walked along. It was maybe half an hour before
the shifting signal cut off our conversation.
continued the trail to the crunch of my own footsteps, walking along,
with occasional biker zooming past, head bent down, muscles tensed and
working the peddles at full speed. From behind, I heard an approaching
set of tires slow. I looked over my shoulders to see a woman riding a
beach bicycle with the long handled bars and a front basket – wearing a
casual blue dress with a flower print and tights.
I stopped and offered a greeting.
riding into Cumberland. It's not too often you see hikers on this
trail. You seem like the kind of person worth talking to," she said.
"What are you up to in Cumberland?" I asked.
"Just going to visit some friends and hang out for Heritage Days. Are you staying in Cumberland?"
was thinking about it. I need to take a day off and give my ankle some
rest. It's not used to carrying this weight or walking this much," I said as
I unbuckled the waist off my pack and shifted the straps off my
shoulders, setting the pack upon the ground.
far are you going. I mean, how long are you out for, a few days, a few
weeks? Are you taking the trail all the way into Washington DC?" she
not sure yet. I thought this might me a nice change for the summer. It
would be nice to walk into DC, maybe see the sights. But I'd also like
to keep going, maybe pick up the Appalachian Trail and keep heading
south to Georgia," I said.
The woman smiled, "You're a long way from Georgia. Do you think you could make it there by the end of summer?"
would have to sit down and crunch some numbers. I think its possible,
but I would really have to find my stride and put some miles on. I guess
I'm just figuring things out as I go," I said.
"Do you want an apple?" she asked.
"I'd love an apple," I said.
the front basket of the bike, she reached into a bag pulled out her
cellphone and checked the time and then pulled out an apple and handed
it to me.
peeled the sticker off and bit into it. "Are you from around here?" I
asked as I wiped a bit of juice from the corner of my mouth."
grew up in Cumberland. That's where my family lives. After I graduated
from college, I got a job teaching back at an elementary in Frostberg,"
I rolled the sticker with my fingertips and put it in my back pocket.
"What do you teach?" I asked.
"I expect your students love you," I said.
"Some days more than others," she said.
"Do you ride this trail often?" I asked.
"As often as I can. Which isn't too much lately. However, in a few weeks I'm taking a trip to Australia," she said.
"Oh?" I said.
she said with a smile. "I'm going for almost an entire month. I'm going
to backpack around see the cities, walk some trails, crash on people's
couches. Have you ever couch-surfed?" she asked.
"Like where you just crash on random people's couches? No, I haven't," I said.
should definitely look into it. It seems kind of weird, but you really
meet the coolest people. Might be worth looking into if you're going to
be out for a while," she said.
"Maybe I will. Hey, do you know where I might find camping around town?" I asked.
"How long are you going to be around here?" she asked.
"I thought I might take a day off. Rest my ankle," I said.
"You should get in touch with me when you're in Cumberland. We could hit the festival," she said.
woman looked up the path. Then, she smiled and looked at me again. She
rifled through her bag again and produced a scratch pad and pen.
"I'm Melissa. I don't think I mentioned my name," she said as she wrote down her phone number.
"Jake," I said.
She ripped the white piece of paper off and handed it to me.
"Call me tomorrow," she said.
"I definitely will," I said.
"I better get going. Im glad we bumped into each other," she said.
"I'm glad you took the time to stop and say hello. Most bikers zoom right by. If I'm lucky I might get a nod," I said.
"Maybe it's because you're tall. You look intimidating," she said with a smile.
"Maybe that's it," I said.
stood on the pedal and the bike slowly rolled forward. Watching her
ride off, once Melissa made it a little ways past a Mulberry tree
shedding its fruit onto the the sidewalk with dark purple splotches, she
looked over her shoulder, smiled again, and gave a quick wave, before
she slowly shrank into the distance and disappeared around a corner.
I continued my hike, the path provided more attractions, and more
joggers passed me by as an indication I was nearing town. I stopped to
read a sign posted to a gated fence, that said "Bone Cavern," and talked
about unearthed remains of varying mammals such as saber-toothed cats. I
eyed the tall fence, and observed the collapsed entrance to see if it
might be passable.
I stepped off the trail into the woods and stashed my bag. While I
rifled through it looking for a headlamp, I heard the whine of a small
electric motor. Slowly I peeked through the trees over a small ridge and
watched a woman power by in an electric wheelchair with a bright orange
flag waving above as she went. She stopped in front of the fence as if
guarding the entrance and stared at a majestic view of a valley on the
other side of the path.
I lay in the leaves using my pack as a headrest while I stared up
through the trees and listened for her motor to start back up and take
her down the path again. After I heard the cushioned steps of a few
joggers go by, I peeked again over the ridge to see the woman still
sitting in the wheelchair. I waited and rested as a small throng of mosquitoes crept out of the woods and started to swarm me. Calmly I
pushed them away as they hovered above my handed and landed to bite
again. Inevitably, I decided to move on and maybe come back another
stood up and put on my pack. As I descended the small hill out of the
forest, I stopped see the woman sleeping in her chair as I stepped onto
the trail and continued. Not too far from the bone cavern, there was a
plaque telling the history of the Lover's Leap on the bluffs above the
Cumberland Valley. I eyed the cliffs past the river and past the
highway. I read the story of a young Native princess who fell in love
with a white man. Their love forbidden by her father, the chief, the
young princess couldn't dream of a life lived without her lover. Hand in
hand, the couple walked to the top of the lover's leap and jumped off
the cliffs together.
at the cliff's in the distance, across the river valley, underneath a
lush forest, the cliff's cleaved above all. My spirit for adventure
called me to them just to see the view, but I couldn't conceive how I
might find my way to the top of them. Content to walk my own path, I
continued down the trail into Cumberland.
very next thing to tug at my strings was the wafting smell of barbecue
carried on the breeze from half a mile out of town. The trail tamed
itself. Forest and bramble thickets gave way to plants herded by fences
and mulch. Old chapel spires climbed out of the trees into the horizon. I
discovered the source of the smell, a restaurant across the river. I
continued past it wanting to get settled for the day before I explored
mulched flower beds became potted plants. Concrete overpasses and an
aqueduct corralled the the trail along the river and then across it as I
followed the path downtown.
festival in full swing, I didn't feel too odd carrying my pack through
town as hungry city-folk reverted to primal stages scarfing down hot
dogs and various meats on a stick. As I followed the path past a train
marked "Cumberland Railroad" packed with a tourists and children with
heads out the open windows, I came to the town's station.
front of the old building, cast into the ground, a metal plate
demarcated the end of my first trail, The Great Allegheny Passage, mile
0. Heading out of town, I would be starting another journey altogether.
went into the station, asked a park guide for a suitable place to camp
and discovered the local YMCA allowed camping for a suitable fee.
before I ventured into town I stopped at a picnic table for an
afternoon meal. I ate peanut butter and tortillas, grinning as a looming
grey sky opened to a slight drizzle that sent the festival-goers jogging
for the nearest car or shelter.
In the mist of the rain, I packed up my food and walked into the town.
away in the backyard of the city, the Y turned out to be a wonderful
place to camp for the night. I paid my ten dollars which gave me use of
the tent site, showers and full use of the facility. Not in the mood to
pass up such a bargain, I pitched my tent, then found a pair of swim
trunks in the lost and found. I lounged around the heated pool.
The warm water, melted the aches out my legs. After ten days on the
trail, a night spent on trim soft lawn, feeling clean and rested would
be comparable to staying at the choicest of hotels.
make the night more perfect, I had company at my campsite. A woman and
her ten year old son. Though they weren't fully accustomed to "roughin'
it." From the back of her flatbed, she unpacked coolers full of food and a
multi-roomed tent, complete with cots to sleep on. By the end of the
night she would tell me, she loved to camp when she had the time, but it
was a bit too much work setting up.
woman worked for Meals on Wheels. She thought Heritage Days would be the
right opportunity to take her son out for the weekend. They spent the
day walking the trail and bird-watching, which her son was quite adept
"I saw a flock of yellow birds today with black wings. What might those be," I asked.
"You mean Goldfinches," he said, almost as if I was stupid.
"Would you like to join us for dinner? We have venison bologna, chips, and soda," the woman asked.
I gratefully accepted as I was encouraged to stuff myself beyond my stomach's capacity.
Contently fed, clean and in good spirit, I ended the day in the realization of life fully lived.