It had been weeks since I stepped off trail for a wedding and lost thru tang. The long distance can seem haunting when you know you’re on the same trail but days behind. The isolation from the group illustrated all to clearly that my best days on the trail are with friends. I love Sambo and Rambo but it is clear that it’s time to gain the numbers and character variety of a more full family. It’s been a week since the four state and though my feet are far from healthy I’m antsy to make the final push to close on Snuggles, Caboose, Atlas and the rest of the group.
The Bo Boys and I left camp at a more business-like time (9 a.m. like everyone else as opposed to our 10 a.m. to noon starts) and with an agenda to catch our friends. We hiked a good day through Pennsylvania rocks and camped on a swampy ridge. It sounds oxymoronic but the mountains were at a funny elevation and design in Pennsylvania, one that created moderately flat areas for water to pool and hang out. Even in late July these swarming mosquito breeding grounds are cold enough at night to discourage the insects from molesting nearby hikers.
He went through a few more names but I like Poop Hands.
The next day we met up with Rockman, Ziplock, and Rockman’s older brother, trail named ‘Poop Hands’. It’s almost unfair to call him Poop Hands since it’s based on a relaxed use of hand sanitizer, not actual feces on his hands. Weekend hikers should hop on a trial name quickly and use it for the few days. He went through a few more names but I like Poop Hands.
Meeting and spending time with a second sibling of his further etched into place why Rockman is who he is. I’m not saying anything bad about his siblings or him but they balance each other out well. Where his sister and brother have “settled down” he is living outside. They are all well spoken, intelligent, organized and goal driven. They know what they like but are flexible enough to step outside of their delicately crafted surroundings. All are strong headed enough to take on intimidating tasks. All joke about a mother who embodies all of the above and contradicts generalization. Either way I like the Rock Clan and watching them interact. The six of us spent a few nights together while Poop Hands was on the trail.
The next few days we gained on the next clump of our group. We made sure to tie the 501 shelter into our itinerary because it has bunks, running water, and is close enough to the road to ORDER PIZZA. We arrived at 8 p.m., jogging the last mile worrying our pizza place would closed. Sweating and head-lamped, we emerged from the woods to find a good group of hikers around a nice fire.
The pizza place was open and delivering, but now the decision was between ordering a pizza rogue or waiting for the rest of the group to pool resources and decide as a team. A lot of thru hiking is making this decision.
The pizza place was open and delivering, but now the decision was between ordering a pizza rogue or waiting for the rest of the group to pool resources and decide as a team. A lot of thru hiking is making this decision. You do it in 100 different ways and it routinely leaves some people waiting small to large amounts of time. It looked like rain so Rambo and I found hammock sites while the rest used bunks inside the 501 shelter. Right as we returned to the shelter the team arrived and slapped an eclectic order together that would fulfill everyone’s needs. Thirty minutes later, Rockman and Poop Hands picked up the pizzas, subs, and hamburgers by the road.
Our group gathered in the shelter taking advantage of picnic tables before a beautiful glass dome. Despite the fact some people have started to go to sleep around us we sat down and feasted like pirates returning from a long voyage. Hands was going all over grabbing handfuls off others’ plates. There was swearing, banging of the table and a volume well above an acceptable level. After 20 minutes of lip smacking, tomato sauce slurping and feeding we all waddled away to our sleeping spots. It’s so nice to skip more of the same dinner for real food. Even nicer to build these low expectations for food that make a normal meal in the real life feel more special than thanksgiving in the woods.
Right before I left the mead hall/shelter I grabbed the shelter log to check for notes from our friends. One of the last was a Wendell Berry quotes written by Caboose. It wasn’t addressed to anyone in the book but as soon as I read it I felt a sinking feeling because I knew who it was intended for:
“The river is of the earth, and is free. It is rigorously embanked and bound, and yet it is free. ‘To hell with restraint’ it says. ‘I have to be going’. It will grind out its dams. It will go over or around them- they will become pieces”
The whole time we’d been apart I was trying not to feel the stress of catching up. I wanted to continue to hike unadulterated and independent but my hike didn’t feel independent anymore. Caboose and I had officially spent enough time apart.
We moved early and hard out of the 501 shelter after a brief photoshoot with Sambo and Rambo below the dome. Despite fast hiking and a good attitude, the Pennsylvania rocks slowed down what would have been a 22 mile day on stiffer mountains into a 16 mile day on cobble.
I hate having gender specific jobs but she’s intelligent and confident enough to ask people for a lot in a respectful and direct way. That plus being an adorable girl makes for some trail skills that get you places.
We stayed with Poop Hands, Rockman and Ziplock around the Eagles nest shelter 10 miles outside of our next town. If we could get going early enough we could hit town before our friends left. I wanted to take the opportunity to close the gap as if it was our only chance. I got up early and got the Bo Boys up too. After a light amount of tossing a mini vortex around, we hit the trail to get to town mid day. We didn’t really stop before we hit Port Clinton. A few trains still wind through the mountains moving coal. This small town takes us through a coal yard with huge pieces of anthracite coal. Naturally we climbed all over them since coal is the crunchy filling to the mountains we’ve been enjoying so much. Port Clinton also lets hikers stay in a communal space near the trail. Luckily our friends stayed there killing time the night before to help us catch up. Less than a mile past Port Clinton we hit a road where we could catch a ride into Hamburg. Cabela’s, the monstrously large outdoor store/experience offers a shuttle service into town. It sounded sweet but they told us we walked to far so we had to hitch hike with a local trail maintainer. We helped him pick up over 50 pounds of mostly beer bottle trash that helped squeak the wheels of giving 7 hikers a ride in his truck. Ziplock finally went over to ask him directly for the tall favor. Anyone could have asked but I honestly asked her to do it with both of us knowing girls are better at finding rides. I hate having gender specific jobs but she’s intelligent and confident enough to ask people for a lot in a respectful and direct way. That plus being an adorable girl makes for some trail skills that get you places. We said goodbye to Poop Hands and hopped in the car to Hamburg to try to catch our friends before it was too late. He dropped us at Cabela’s, which dwarfs Walmart in size. The boys ran around inside while I skipped over to the cigar shop to find our friends.
I walked inside to catch Snuggles who had a lot of the same thoughts, which he addressed with four letter words in quick succession.
From afar I saw a shorter woman standing strong and dressed in tight black marino wool next to a 6’ 5” man with dark black, bushy hair and a beard that didn’t look like something you’d see on a person’s face who has a home. Caboose gave me a big hug and a deep look that clearly was happy with an asterisk. Atlas smiled at me showing a lot of teeth and gave me a bear hug. I felt the relief to see them again but I knew I was in trouble. After the large French Canadian hug where you try to make each other’s ribs compress with force, he gave me a good slap in the face. Atlas and Caboose had waited around considerable amounts to let us catch them. Jack, Chewy, and Tesla left town earlier that day and were fed up with waiting. They clearly felt we took too long to get there but I stuck to my guns that it was as fast as we could without mortgaging our hike. Luckily we are close as family so we talked about it immediately and I promised we’d be ready to hike big miles at a consistent pace to catch up with the rest of the fray. I walked inside to catch Snuggles who had a lot of the same thoughts, which he addressed with four letter words in quick succession. He didn’t seem to care as much as the other two. Snugz is good at being present minded around a bar and finding good excuses to celebrate. Seems simple but it’s really valuable to air problems with friends so you can jump back into enjoying time with them. A slap in the face seems excessive, but active aggression is easily understood and addressed compared to passive aggression.
After our introductions I ran to grab food then returned to drink a pitcher before leaving town. One lead to another as everyone gathered at the Cigar Bar as they finished town chores. Atlas, Snugz and Caboose had been spending time with a nice fella from the bay area named Chef. Chef has a avocado tattoo on his forearm and the most random yet well placed snacks in his food bag that he loves to share.
Before long we had a full fledged Thru Tang reunion and in consistent fashion, committed to staying in town right around dark. We can always get a ride back to the trailhead and find a campsite close to the road (in theory). Around 9 p.m. it was time for Ziplock to find us a ride. After doing so well earlier she took it as a point of pride. Caboose tagged in with her and they started working the middle aged men around the bar. The first pair offered to give us all a ride after 5 minutes of casual conversation. After 20 minute one of the Nice Guys offered to let us camp in his front yard. I stepped in making sure he knew a bunch of dudes where in this picture to which he understood. So started our evening with Baron Anthracite.
This well dressed, salt and pepper haired gentlemen said he was involved with the coal company that we walked through in Port Clinton, forever anchoring the anthracite to his name. It took a few more hours to add the ‘Baron’.
Soon after we closed out our tabs, all too ready to get to sleep. After figuring out how we’d transport all of us to his place (rolling 9 deep), we waited for his wife to show up with another car. Snuggles noticed that the door drop on his vintage restored wood paneled Jeep Cherokee was misaligned. Closing the door took multiple tries and didn’t align in the frame. After telling the Baron his credentials he insisted on fixing the car. Knowing it was an expensive, antique car made me nervous but Snuggles was un-phased. He wasn’t just drunk and confident but ready to do what he knows best. He carefully grabbed the bottom of the door and squatted it up with a lot of calculated force. Two squats and the door closed like the day the Jeep rolled out of the factory a decade before Snuggles was born. Amazing to see the not delicate process of something that would cost $100 to fix but apparently takes 15 seconds and no tools to do. The Baron was very happy and enticed Snuggles with a car collection he couldn’t wait to share back at his house.
Turns out Ziplock and Caboose wrangled a whale of a taxi driver.
We loaded up into a three car caravan and drove back to his house. We were divided between one SUV driven by his wife who didn’t seem to like us much, and another car piloted by one of his friends that, despite the fact he drank a good amount, complained about having to do surgery at 7 a.m. the next morning, and the Baron. I call him that because he started to share that he wasn’t just involved with the local coal company but owned it. He also owned large tracks of land in the area totaling enough to make him the largest private landowner in the state. His friend even spilled the beans that he ran an unsuccessful campaign for state senate in 2012. Turns out Ziplock and Caboose wrangled a whale of a taxi driver.
We got dropped off a few hundred yards away from his McMansion that looked like 3 regular houses pushed together. We shared the facts we found out over the ride with our drivers in disbelief. No one was shell shocked by a rich person but surprised we were being harbored by someone a lot of us would see as an enemy. We spend all our time walking on mountains by which this man profits from excavating. Regardless of his work he was very friendly to us and respected our confident wunderlust. Around midnight some of us retired to our shelters while Atlas fought the good fight, arguing with a coal baron that global climate change is real. Eventually he realized he was talking to a brick wall and eloquently called the baron and the surgeon stupid. The conversation stopped agreeing to disagree but Atlas knew he was a little rude. Atlas was more upset that he wasn’t going to get the piece of petrified wood the Baron promised him before the conversation turned hostile.
The next morning we woke up in a dewy lawn to Doughnuts and coffee. The Baron was nice enough to leave early for a meeting and return with treats. We gathered around the goods like during any feeding session but this time I felt pause. I starred at the doughnuts and couldn’t grab one. Rockman caught me and knew why I was hesitating.
“Don’t want to take more benefits from the Coal Baron?” Rocky asked.
I softly nodded disappointingly; we were already deep in help sponsored by big coal. Rockman, son of missionaries, was very familiar with the 7th Adventist church to which he no longer belonged (“badventist”). “You know what the 7th Adventists say when they take gambling money as donations?” he asked. I shook my head ‘no’. “That money has been in the devils hands for long enough!” So I decided to take a doughnut that apparently needed to be liberated.
Around 10 we loaded up in his truck and drove back to Port Clinton. Rockman chatted with him on the way back about the summer. He was complaining of the mild winter last year because it meant people weren’t paying as much for heat. Luckily the summer had some good hot days that would force the counties around him to turn on the AC. It was funny to find someone with the opposite stance on temperature than every other person who does not own multiple coal plants.
After an interesting night with baron anthracite, it was good to get back on trail. More than anything it was great to catch our friends. Anyone could hike this trail alone but we prefer to hike with family.