No time to waste

It’s been awhile since my previous post, 16 days. In that span, I have taken two days off (“zeroes,” we smelly hikers call them): Nov. 23 in Delaware Water Gap, Pa., to watch my Indiana Hoosiers’ basketball opener at the Maui Invitational (I had no access to a computer that day), and Thanksgiving in West Chester, Pa., where I chose to take a day off to hang out with friends Jeff and Heather, gorge on turkey and catch up on football with a day of NFL on TV.

In those two weeks, I’ve bumped up my mileage with several 20-mile days as I push on toward Springer Mountain, Ga. This morning, I hit the 1,000-mile mark, and by next week, I plan to reach the halfway point of my hike.

If I can average about 130 miles a week, I will reach my goal of a January finish. To do that, I will have fewer opportunities to blog. That doesn’t mean I won’t have fresh updates from the trail, however. Follow me on Instagram (@mrelvez) and Twitter (@SteveBacon1) for several updates per week.

Before I get back to hiking, though, I wanted to share a few stories that inspired me. They happened a few weeks back in one of my favorite states. Ah, New York (and New Jersey), I have come to love you.

In New York and Jersey, the trails are great. The people, well, they are even better. Nov. 14, I met Augie, who offered me a beer and a nice conversation in the woods. The next day, a New York Blackhawks fan bought me a bomber of pumpkin beer after I spotted his NHL champion banner at the liquor store. An hour later, the manager at the barbecue joint bought me a beer after our animated talk between beer snobs. The next day, Roshanna, a trail angel in her 80s, wouldn’t take no for an answer and drove me back to the trail and sent me off with her Toblerone chocolate bar. A day later, Dave and Alex stopped me in the woods after dark and gave me a Long Trail beer as we shared stories from the trail. They told me about a trail angel named Jim Murray in Unionville, N.Y., who built a heated cabin, shower and privy for hikers on his farm.

Two nights later, as I hiked to Murray’s cabin, I stepped out of a rainstorm for dinner at Horler’s convenience store in Unionville. The woman working could not have been kinder as I dripped all over the store’s floor. We talked about Murray’s cabin, and she knew it well, having visited it several times. I thanked her and headed out into the soggy night for what I thought was another hour for a 2.5-mile hike. Three hours later, spun around and lost in the rain and dark, I approached a house I thought might be Murray’s.

“Excuse me,” I said to the four people at the doorway, “is this the Murray house?” “It’s me,” a woman said. I just stared blankly, blinded by my smudged glasses and fatigue. “It’s me! The woman from the store.” Of all the houses at which I could’ve stopped in the night, I lucked into the one place in New Jersey where I knew someone. (When hiking in New York and New Jersey, you never know in which state you are. At least, I could never figure it out.) Her husband — and I was so shot mentally that I forgot both of their names — drove me three miles to the Murray farm, where I warmed up and dried out. The next morning, I hiked north for nine-tenths of a mile to the road where I got lost — I had to pass every white blaze — then turned back around and returned to my southbound adventure.

My best encounter in New York/New Jersey — and arguably the entire trail — came in the town on Pawling, N.Y. It’s a great town for a history buff like me: legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow lived there, and Gen. George Washington’s troops wintered there during the Revolutionary War. After checking out these sites and buying New York postcards for the kids, I headed to the supermarket to re-supply for the trail. I wasn’t sure where to find the store, so I stopped in for a quick beer and directions.

As I nursed my beer, a woman flirted with the bartender. He mentioned he was from the Midwest. “Where are you from?” I asked. “Indiana.” Where? “Plymouth,” he said. So, of course, I brought up Orlando Magic coach Scott Skiles, Plymouth’s favorite son. It turned out that the woman at the bar was Kayle’s girlfriend, and the three of us talked for hours. Kayle finished his shift and waited around for me. He offered to run me by the store and said I could shower at his house. (On the trail, a shower is like hitting the lottery: It’s rare, and it can make your day.) When I went to pay, I found out that Kayle had bought my beers. I guess I wasn’t headed back to the trail this day.

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We got back to Kayle’s house, where I met the world’s biggest Scott Skiles fan, Kayle’s father, Larry. They have lived together for about the past decade — most of it in Bloomington, Ind., one of my favorite places on earth — and their relationship was wonderful to behold. Kayle is a guitar player who toured the world with Hilary Duff for years, and Larry is his biggest fan. We hung out for hours listening to music, then left to meet Steph, Kayle’s girlfriend, at a concert. Again, they covered me. And that night, they put me up in the guest bedroom. I could’ve been a serial killer for all they knew, though I’m proud to say I’m not.

As Larry and I drank and listened to the band at the club, Kayle worked the room like the rock star he once was. Not once did Kayle act embarrassed by Larry, quite a feat when I put myself in Kayle’s shoes (a guy in his 30s hanging out with a father in his 70s in a bar surrounded by friends and others who look up to him). Larry can be goofy, like my old man was, and I cringe at the memories of sometimes getting uptight around my father when my friends were around and he was putting on a show. There is no one, with the possible exception of my children, Forrest and Marlowe, whom I’ve loved more than my dad, and that’s why I’m haunted by the times I couldn’t relax and accept him for what he was: a helluva good man with a quirky sense of humor. In fact, I’d give anything to hear one of his bad puns right now.

I’ve seen a lot of beautiful things on the Appalachian Trail: majestic mountains, gorgeous waterfalls, moose and bears. But none has been as special as that bond shared by Kayle and his dad, Larry. I’m proud to say they are fellow Hoosiers.