Day 107: Mile 1024.1 | The Town’s Inn
We got up early and hiked into town. Over some ridges and into the Harpers Ferry National Park:
Over a bridge crossing the flooded Shenandoah river:
The blue blazed side trail that led us to Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) Headquarters (the unofficial/ceremonial halfway point where you get an unofficial number and an unofficial photo that all looks very official) meandered through the campus of what used to be a Historically Black College that is now owned by the Forest Service:
We rounded the corner of the ATC filled with glee. I felt that catch in my chest and my throat that you only get from pure joy. That feeling that kind of makes you want to whoop and holler. We arrived and saw some other hikers getting their photos taken and some day visitors sitting outside looking on. We’d been dreaming about this since the beginning and now we’re actually here, almost halfway! I’d been watching fellow hikers make it here on instagram for weeks now. I was so glad it was my turn. We put our packs down and went inside. They asked us to wait in the hiker lounge, they’d come get us when they were ready to take our photo. We sat at the table in the hiker lounge and flipped through two HUGE binders full of photos of hikers that had passed trough this year. There was a special color for each type of hiker: thru-hiker NOBO, thru-hiker Flip-Flop, thru-hiker SOBO, and section hiker.
Around us the two room building was filled with history: photos of the first kid to thru-hike, the oldest person to thru-hike, the first woman to thru-hike, the first woman of color to thru-hike, the fastest thru-hiker, etc. But it was the center of the room that captivated us the most. There stood a huge map, at least 5 feet long, with raised topographical features of the entire Appalachian Trail. The White Mountains of New Hampshire and Katahdin in Maine stood out like big bumps in comparison to the low mountains of the states we’d been to, aside from North Carolina. I traced the little red line that represented the trail with my finger all the way to Maine. It seemed so small and palpable in this medium, but also somehow vast and insurmountable. We weren’t even halfway and I was coming up on three and half months of hiking. It amazed me, it still does.
We got called for our photo and we went out front to pose as ‘real’ thru-hikers:
Miles picked up a package his mom sent here. He finally got his new pack, an Osprey Exos 48, and he was so excited. He opened it like a kid on his birthday! She also sent some Mountain House Meals and ProBars (aka luxury sustenance), what a hero. I got my packages, too: a new water bag to replace the one that broke in Shenandoah and a new Lifeproof case!
At the ATC we learned that the bridge and canal that lead out of town on the trail were close due to severe flooding. An ATC volunteer offered to give us a ride around the closed part of the trail so that we could get out of town. I’d heard of the bridge and canal closing earlier in the summer and spring. I’d even seen video of hikers climbing the fence on the bridge to keep hiking and trudging through dangerous flood waters just to see all the white blazes. We chose to just stay the night in town. Hopping the fence could lead to a thru-hike ending injury and neither of us were interested in skipping. The guy said it was likely to open the next day.
We packed up Miles’ new pack and ran down to the post office. I wanted to mail my sleeping bag home because I hadn’t been using it in the heat. We were in a hurry because we needed to catch the last town bus to WalMart in order to do our resupply. I realized I didn’t have anything waterproof to put my bag in and I didn’t want it to get damaged. Miles quickly offered for me to put it inside his cuben fiber backpack that he was sending home. We could just send it all in one box and his mom could hold onto it for me until the north where it would be colder. We stuffed it all into a box and taped it shut before it burst. We realized we didn’t have exact change for the bus so we ducked into the closest store, the liquor store (in the same building as the post office and police office, so weird) and grabbed a bag of chips to break a $20. I was hangry anyway. We ran back up the hill, me with chips stuffed in my mouth the whole time, to catch the bus and made it just in time.
We got to WalMart and went inside to do our resupply. At first there was almost no one there. It was easy and good but suddenly after about ten minutes the store got crowded. I got overwhelmed. I was trying to think about my resupply, I hadn’t made a list for the first time ever, and processing everything that was going on around me in a Super WalMart was ALOT. I shut down. My thoughts got cloudy. It was hard to get my shopping done. I stood in front of shelves filled with the same thing by 5 different brands. I stood and stared at exactly what I needed for at least 20 seconds before realizing I was standing right in front of it. An hour and a half later we left with, hopefully, everything we needed.
Miles went over to Goodwill to see if he could find a shirt to replace the one he was wearing. His old pack had worn holes in the shoulders. While he was inside I got a call from an Ohio area code. I’d gotten a few missed calls from this number but they never left a message. I answered this time. A man on the other end informed me that he worked for a collection agency. That I had a Perkins Loan from college that was delinquent and needed to be taken care of. I asked if I could have my mother call and take care of it, explaining that I didn’t have access to a computer. He said he couldn’t, laws prohibit it even if your mother is your power of attorney. I asked if I could call back. The initial shock of the news was too much to process all at once with the Super WalMart cloud still in my head.
I called my mom, she told me it seemed legitimate and to call back to see what I could do. If I let it go for three more months it could really damage my credit score. I called back. I felt more stressed out than I had in weeks. The man told me it was simple to combine my Perkins Loan with my other Stafford Loans at my regular loan servicer. I went online per his instructions and filled out a form. It was relatively quick and easy. Apparently I could have applied for deferment because my hike qualified me as unemployed, which I didn’t know.
I felt like as much as I had figured out about loans, I still knew nothing. I wish someone had told me how they work and how the interest would compound until you feel like you’re drowning and you can’t get out. How (unless you got a high paying job soon after you graduate) you’d be paying them off for most of your life, not just a few years out of college. I felt the weight of my debt on my shoulders for the first time since I came out on the trail. I sorted all of my loans out and sent them to one servicer. I as I ended the call with the loan servicer a section hiker pulled up in his rental car with his wife. He offered to give us a ride back into town. We gratefully accepted.
Once we got back to town we checked into the Town’s Inn. We left our packs in the basement hiker hostel and went to explore. We saw some historical things:
It was cool, but my mind was so preoccupied by my loans. I was crushed... and there was nothing I could do about it. I’d heard of people saving all of their monthly payments in cash for something like 10 years and only paying $25 a month just to keep the loan from defaulting and then offering the sum of that 10 years of saving (usually at least 51% of the principle) and the loan company accepting it as paid off. I started considering alternative means of paying back my loans.
We went back to the Towns Inn and sat on the front porch, eating. Another hiker was there. His name is Roadkill. He hiked the PCT and told us about how different it is and how much water you’d have to carry during the first part. Not long after, I saw another hiker walking down the road. He had grown facial hair but looked like another hiker we hadn’t seen in a while.
“Huevos!” I yelled across the street, taking the chance that he might be that guy we never saw again after the Smokies. The hiker looked up, he was on the phone (oops), and his face lit up. He hung up the phone and ran over to the Inn.
“You guys! I haven’t seen you in so long!” He said quickly. He told us all about his adventures since he las saw us in March. He told us about how he had hitch hiked all over and these people he’d met. How he was low on money but wanted to hike home to Massachusetts. He seemed different. He had grown a lot as a person. He had decided he wasn’t a thru-hiker anymore, just a hiker out to see and learn whatever he could. He decided he wouldn’t finish the whole trail but he was happy with how much he had learned. It was great to see how much he changed. People grow out here and it’s incredible to witness.
We sat and talked with Huevos for a while. We got hungry, though, and walked down the hill to a restaurant for dinner. I got fish and chips. We talked about everything that’s happened to all of us since the smokies. And about Huevos’ crazy hitchhiking adventure to get to where he is now.
Back at the Inn later that night Miles and Huevos played chess. I went to bed early. The basement hostel area was damp. It was an uncomfortable night of sleep. I was disappointed in all that we paid for it.