Miles 13 to 25 (12)
My third social encounter of the day is also my longest, lasting an entire minute. The northbound thru-hiker is ecstatic to hear that I’m going all the way to Massachusetts. “Dude, that’s so awesome,” the young man exclaims. “Dude this” and “Dude that,” he continues. Will it always be this exciting to cross paths with other thru-hikers? “Have a sick hike, dude.” I’ll do my best.
I can’t wait to get my soaked boots off, as I make my way into Tillotson Camp. I spend two hours trying to start a fire with wet wood. I get on my belly and try to scavenge dry twigs from under the shelter. I rip handfuls of birch bark from nearby trees to use as kindling, but it isn’t enough to ignite the sodden timber that I have at my disposal. I accompany the flammable white bark with pages from my guidebook that seem unnecessary. I’m desperate to start tomorrow’s hike with dry boots.
Frustrated, I retreat to the inside of Tillotson Camp. While failing to start a fire, I was being assaulted by swarms of black flies. My ankles, wrists, and hands are covered in small, red bites that seem to swell before my eyes. I scratch at them tirelessly, while emptying the contents of my food bag onto a shabby wooden table. I stare at an array of dehydrated dinner options that I would never consider eating at home. I want to get rid of the heaviest food first and decide to prepare macaroni and cheese with tuna fish. “Tuna Mac,” I laugh out loud to myself. I don’t think I’ve eaten such a thing since my cafeteria days in elementary school. In a world where I lug a 40-pound bag up and down hills all day, Tuna Mac is a high-calorie delicacy.
It’s 10pm and I should be stuffed inside of my sleeping bag, but there are fireworks going off below me to the east. Tillotson Shelter, perched on a ridgeline between Haystack and Belvidere Mountains, has a wide-open view facing this direction, and from afar I can see the glow of small rockets rising upwards, then exploding in the sky. Yesterday was the Fourth of July, also my kid-sister’s birthday. I imagine sunburned children, with their Mothers and Fathers, in awe over the sight of color being painted onto the fabric of sky above them. I imagine the barbecues and family gatherings that undoubtedly took place in the small town below me today. I imagine the flames from one of those little rockets drying out my boots.