Merf and I spent the night at the Leroy A. Smith Shelter with Little Brown. It had been one of those long, frustrating slogs to reach the place; it had rained the whole time, one of us—and I won't name names—was being unduly surly and impatient with the other, and then the both of us kept misreading landmarks and thinking we were closer than we really were. It was a tremendous relief when we finally arrived.
And when we did, I naturally blamed everything on Merf and selfishly bullied her into filtering my water for me. Which Little Brown righteously objected to, all but calling me a chauvinist pig. To my eternal credit, however, I did sort of feel bad about it. And I should have. It would be the last night Merf and I would spend on the trail together.
Well, besides the following night, but that was in a hostel, so it hardly counts.
Anyway, the next morning, racked by guilt, the three of us started off towards the Delaware Water Gap. Except for Little Brown, who left either before or after Merf and me. I'm not quite sure. And what a day it would be.
And we stopped at the Gateway Motel at Wind Gap that morning, to fill up on water. The proprietors were friendly and accommodating. We may have seen Little Brown there, along with some enterprising southbounders, one of whom had an adorable, terrifying Doberman puppy who growled at everybody and ran around off his leash. For some reason, I can't find it in my heart to make fun of them, or to say anything scathingly sarcastic.
We practically ran to the Kirkridge Shelter on a continuous high from finding so many (now presumably non-toxic) raspberries. So, actually, we made terrible time. We met a trail runner there at the shelter, though, who had hiked up several gallons of water from town, because the nearby spigot had run dry. We told him about where an ATV had apparently chewed up the trail pretty bad at a nearby road crossing, refilled our water, and hiked on.
The next landmark in my Handbook was a "Grassy Area," which made Merf laugh. You know the terrain must be generally awful if it's actually noteworthy the when time it's good. And lo, we arrived at the "Grassy Area," and it was. Merf even took some pictures, just to prove the place was real.
Then we were scrambling across the "Lunch Rocks," where we did not eat lunch. After that came "Lookout Rock," where we did pause momentarily to enjoy the view: the Delaware River snaking below us, and, across from us, New Jersey. For the first time since Harper's Ferry, I felt like I was on familiar ground. And nearing home.
And then it was "Council Rock," because God forbid the last mile into town was even slightly tolerable. We met a couple of southbound section hikers who told us we were right around the corner from the road. Which was nice to hear, if slightly unhelpful. Almost immediately afterwards, however, we ran into a porcupine sitting in the middle of the trail.
Merf said "Ooh!" excitedly, and I stopped short, alarmed, thinking she might have seen a bear. But no, just a cute little porcupine, in all it's quilly glory. Spooked by our sudden arrival, the porcupine ran—okay, waddled—off the trail and up a tree. It wasn't quick or agile like the bear cubs I'd seen, but slow and graceful, keeping its quills pointed in our direction. Which was smart, I suppose, even if we weren't exactly about to climb up the tree after it.
And then we emerged out into the world, and found the Hiker Hostel at the Church of the Mountain. We took showers, and scoured the hiker box for goodies. I found a superb tie-dye tank top to wear around town. Little Brown arrived some time later, and got ready to meet Moonpie for a pilgrimage to Gettysburg. Then this kid Snack Attack showed up. I thought he was stoned at first, but then figured out he was just really, really tired. He had started the trail in April, and had been doing 30 mile days with frightening regularity. Eventually the Reverend Karen came in to talk to us, and she was really nice. And everything was fantastic.
And then the Traveling Circus showed up.
And Merf and I ended up going out for pizza with them. I remembered to thank Monkey for the emergency blanket he had given me back in Port Clinton. Merf and I shared a large pie and a bottle of root beer. And that was that. The next morning she would continue on, while I would stay behind to wait for Megan to pick me up and take me hence, back into civilization.
We didn't do anything particularly special to commemorate the occasion. Perhaps we didn't have to, or perhaps we weren't self-aware enough to realize that we should. People are constantly coming and going on the trail, as in life. And it is rare for those involved to recognize this ebb and flow as it happens. When the time came, our goodbye would be nothing more than a "Good luck!" and a wave. Could there have been more to say? Perhaps. But maybe that was just the way it was meant to be.
Hiking with Merf was a pleasure, and a privilege. She was unfailingly polite, upbeat, but never pious or judgmental. A leader by example; an inspiration; a good friend; and a wonderful, willing audience, always ready and eager to laugh, at her own foibles or at mine. I would miss her.
And perhaps I still do.