Still, it was a mildly amusing ballet we orchestrated: every couple of miles one of us would come upon the other sitting beside the trail—taking an unearned break or eating a snack—and we'd nod to each other and exchange grim, knowing smirks. (This tacit, subtle acknowledgement long being the most accepted and universally recognized form of greeting between haggard thru-hikers.) And so, for a few mostly pleasant hours, we more or less marked time with each other.
After slipping ahead for the final time, however, I emerged from the woods out onto a road at the edge of a vast, glassy lake. Stuck by its quiet beauty, or maybe just tired and overcome by the heat of the day, I doffed my pack and sat down on the curb. Where I noticed a note, written on a familiar tie-dyed stationary, taped to the guardrail.
Though days of rain had smudged the ink, her handwriting was unmistakable. It was a letter to Bandito and Caveman, from Redwing, telling them that she, P-Nut, and Lil Dipper were going down to the lake to swim. If the heat radiating off the blacktop wasn't already threatening to melt the soles of my boots, I might've said reading her note—and knowing that, somewhere, my friends were still together—felt like a ray of sunshine. All the same, it made me glad. Although, the fact that neither Caveman nor Bandito had removed said note made me question whether they had seen it in the first place.
As I ripped the note down and stuffed it in my pack, Hobbit emerged from the woods behind me. I pulled my things aside to let him pass, but he waved me off. No sooner had he explained that he was spending the night at a friend's house than someone pulled up in a minivan to pick him up. I saluted him briefly, and that was that. I never saw him again.
I knew my mom would be picking me up almost as soon as I crossed the Connecticut border in the morning. I proposed trying to make it as far as Kent, and coming home in the afternoon, but she suggested picking me up at Route 55 in the morning. Why spend the whole day hiking when you could spend it relaxing and drinking lemonade instead? It was hard to argue with her logic.
Still, knowing her plans did someone diminish my sense of ambition. I knew there was no point to pushing myself harder than I thought necessary. The end result of which was me saying goodbye to Sonic that day, as well. Unlike me, he had a schedule to keep, and needed to keep on making miles. It had always been a struggle to keep up with him, but I was filled with mixed emotions to see him go. Another friend gone, in so little time.
I pulled into the inexplicably named Telephone Pioneers Shelter for the night. It was lonely there for the longest time, until Pixie arrived with some of her coterie, none of whom I had seen since at least Tennessee, or maybe Virginia. It wasn't a jovial reunion. We really hadn't spent that much time together. But it was nice to have company, all the same.
Until I hung my food, and crawled up the hill behind the shelter to where I'd put up my tent. There wasn't a lot of flat ground available nearby, so my position was hardly ideal. Still, I was able to settle in and get comfortable enough, lying awake listening to the creak of the trees and the quiet burble of conversation from the group of friends below.
Tomorrow, I'd be going home. Seeing my friends. Going to bars. Drinking beer. Celebrating the Fourth of July. It was bound to be bittersweet. Yet I felt an undeniable surge of accomplishment. In January, I'd taken a train down to Georgia. And I'd walked home. It was crazy! I wondered if anyone would actually believe me. Probably. Still, I'd come 1456 miles.
Only 733 to go.