I love a dramatic chapter title…
What can I say about Duncannon?
The descent into town was hell. In a single mile, the trail dropped nearly a thousand feet, the last five hundred of which were down a jagged precipice that my Handbook amusingly called a "Rock slide." After tumbling unscathed from the woods onto a dusty dead-end road, I found myself momentarily lost, with not a white blaze in sight. To my right was a quarry, its chain-link fence emblazoned with scary "Do Not Enter" signs. To my left, the road led away over some railroad tracks, past a used-car dealership, across a bridge, and into unknown. I smartly went left, soon rediscovered the telltale white blazes, and slowly meandering into town.
Passing underneath a highway bridge and entering the downtown area proper, I was struck by just how foreign and seemingly unstuck in time Duncannon looked and felt. It didn't feel like the North, or like you'd think Pennsylvania should, especially just two hours outside of Philadelphia. It was more like the wild west, or worse, rural Georgia. Everything looked beaten down, dusty, oddly faded; from the buildings to the cars to the people, it was fairly evident that the town's best days were long behind it.
Merf, Ridley and Panther had all gotten out of camp ahead of me, for various reasons. Merf was running ahead to meet her friend Dietrich at the famous—or is it infamous?—Doyle Hotel. Ridley and Panther were also headed to the Doyle Hotel, because they had inexplicably decided to stay there. For the night. I figured the Doyle Hotel was the place to go. And then there it was, at the center of town, hotel and saloon, the building itself dating back to the turn of the century. Whatever century that is, I'm not sure.
However, what the town lacked in modern amenities—like a pizzeria that was actually open for lunch—it made up for in personality and charm. The proprietors of the Doyle couldn't have been happier to see another smelly hiker crossing their threshold, and I was just as glad to sit down for a surprisingly delicious veggie burger and $3 pint of PBR. Merf and Dietrich and another of their friends—Dietrich's girlfriend perhaps?—were already there, huddled in a booth, deep in conversation. Ridley and Panther were there, and already seeming to regret their decision to reserve a room.
It should have occurred to me that, since Ridley and Panther were staying behind, I might not ever see them again. We had spent so little time together, but I already felt as though I knew them so well. Maybe we didn't have enough time to really get to know each other, but they were a willing and engaging audience, and seemingly took all the right pleasures in my on-going foibles. I would miss them.
But I wasn't thinking of that, then. I was drinking beer! And cheap beer at that. With beer that cheap, you have to have two. At least. So I did. And then I checked my e-mail, and my world almost caved in.
It seems my "friends" back in New York had been busy slandering my name and intentions in my absence! Some "friends" they turned out to be. Tell someone something in confidence, and soon the whole world knows your business. And I don't even want to acknowledge that I know what I'm talking about! Suffice it to say that I was angry, freaked out, and confused, and drunk. Being drunk probably didn't help anything, including the tone of this narration. Too painful to talk about. Let's just move on.
So yes, I was drunk and angry. I just wanted to leave, to put everything behind me, to forget everything, the burning sensation in my cheeks, the twist in my stomach, my knees shaking with nerves. I needed some air.
There was a man outside the Doyle. I couldn't—what? Had I seen him before? He seemed familiar.
"Are you a hiker?" he asked.
"Why, yes I am!" I snapped.
"Here," he said, handing me a box of some kind of flavored Cheerios.
"Thanks!" I yelled, mentally subtracting "breakfast" from the list of things I had to buy at Walmart. Or whatever the nearby grocery store was called.
And then a shuttle came to take us—those of us who needed resupply, which was mainly me, two young girls out for a section hike, and some other morons I couldn't care less about—to that place to get stuff. So I folded myself into the trunk and pouted the whole way there. Childish? You bet.
And then I got my shit and left, cuz fuck it.
I was still in a daze when I started climbing on the other side of the Susquehanna River. Maybe I was still under the influence of the alcohol, or maybe I was just feeling sorry for myself and out of sorts with the world, but I wasn't really paying attention to where I was going or what was happening around me. And that's when I heard and, well, saw the bears.
There were two cubs, foraging in the bushes just to the right of the trail. About five feet away from me. They had stopped what they were doing and were staring at me, agape. Just as I was staring at them. Adorable. Terrifying. I could see mama's big fat butt right behind them. She hadn't noticed me yet, still had her back turned, and was rustling around in the bushes. I figured that was for the best. Still, it was all I could do not to soil myself as I screamed "Oh shit!" and ran off down the trail.
The two cubs immediately jumped on and scurried up the nearest trees. Mama went crashing off into the woods in the other direction. I continued screaming "Shit! Shit! Shit!" as I ran, not daring to take another look back or slow down until I saw the familiar outline of the shelter.
Merf and Dietrich were already there.
"What happened to you?" one of them may have asked.
"I almost just died!" I screamed, my heart practically jumping out of my chest.
I recounted the tale of what had happened, mostly to nervous laughter and admonishing looks.
"You know you're not supposed to do that. If you run, they think you're prey, and they chase you."
"Yeah, well," I shouted, and then was unable to come up with a proper retort.
"Is that you, M.C.?" came a voice from up ahead, as Caveman walked up to the shelter. "I thought I recognized your aggrivatin' racket."
"Caveman!" I shrieked. And we hugged, in a really manly way.
And all was right with the world. And I forgot about all about my earlier embarrassments. And I quickly introduced Caveman to Merf and vice-versa, because I'm not rude, and strictly follow all those polite social conventions. Caveman explained that he had gotten off the trail in Duncannon to take a bus home to see his wife. Four days later, he was back. Fate had brought us back together.
I would have nightmares that night. But not about what you think. Maybe.