52 miles in… Still. – Kinnelon, NJ

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Life is unpredictable, and that’s ok.

For example, I didn’t expect to wake up one day with my body covered entirely in an itchy rash! In my last post, I mentioned a day where I decided to keep hiking and keep hiking and ended up going 16 miles. Well, along that day’s journey, there was a 3 or 4 mile section of fairly flat terrain that went along the bank of the Housatonic River, a huge, long river that flows south through Connecticut and Massachusetts. As the sun started to set and dusk began, we had been hiking along this section for close to an hour. The path was flat soil, surrounded by bright green, thick underbrush. I guess the river made this section really habitable to smaller plants. Anyway, after we had been hiking under these conditions for quite some time, I took a closer look at the underbrush and realized it was pretty much entirely poison ivy! I turned to Thomas and said, mostly joking and not really concerned, “There’s no way we’re going to make it out of here without getting poison ivy.”

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Thomas and I, blissfully unaware of the poison ivy lurking beneath our skin.

Unfortunately, I was right.

Over the course of the next couple days, poison ivy cropped up literally from head to toe, all over my body. Between my fingers and toes, on my face, arms, legs, stomach and back. After making a quick google search, I realized that the fact that it was on my face meant I needed to see a doctor.

Salisbury, Connecticut is a strange place. It’s a tiny town, I can walk from one side of main street to the other in less than 10 minutes. It’s also a really surreal juxtaposition of different lifestyles. On one side of the town is a access point from the Appalachian Trail, and on the other side is Hotchkiss School, a boarding school that costs over 50,000 dollars a year with a huge golf course and a separate building for agricultural studies. While staying in town I saw a $3.5 million dollar car. It’s about 50% wildly wealthy families and 50% flat-broke, stinky hikers.

Salisbury had 4 options in terms of medical care. Salisbury Primary Care, Noble Horizons Health Care Facility, Sharon Hospital, and a house call doctor. Salisbury Primary Care was closed until Monday, so Thomas and I walked about a mile to Noble Horizons, which looked like a good option on google. Unfortunately, when we got there we realized it was in a retirement facility. Slightly desperate, we went in anyway but were told we couldn’t be helped. I wanted to avoid going to the hospital as much as possible, because of how expensive it can get, so after a lot of deliberation between waiting for the Primary Care to open and calling the house call doctor, I finally gave Dr. Ochram a ring. When we talked over the phone, he sounded like he had just woken from a nap. I told him what was wrong and we made an appointment for 2:30 that day. He said he would bring the medicine I needed along with him.

By this point, Thomas had left to go back home, so I was alone. I called up Maria McCabe, an 88 year old Italian woman whose name is in AWOL’s Appalachian Trail Guide as a hiker-friendly home. For $35, she will let you stay with her. I called the number next to her name in the book and she said she had room for me to stay with her that night.

When I showed up at her house around noon, I was a mess. I had just been turned away by the nursing home, and then Thomas had left for Atlanta, I was itchy, lonely, and a little scared. I walked up and she was reclining on her porch, queen of her household.

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Maria, telling me about her life.

She saw that I was distraught, and concerned, asked if I had been attacked or if I was hurt. I told her my situation and she let me leave my pack on her porch while I went into town to figure out what to do. I walked down the main street, embarrassed by the tears I couldn’t stop, and to the bakery, where Thomas and I earlier that morning had encountered another thruhiker, “Highlife”, a 43 year old photographer from Boston. He was still sitting there when I arrived and, seeing that I was upset, offered me a *sealed* cupcake that the baker had just given him. We sat and talked for an hour or so, and I finally stopped crying. We went our separate ways and I made my way to the grocery store to get cash to pay Maria, and to the library so I could do some research.

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Highlife took this photo of me while we were sitting outside the bakery, my hair conveniently hiding the poison ivy. More of his photos can be found at https://craigwilliamjohnston.com/

Maria called me around 3 to warn me that she would tolerate no nonsense, under the false impression that I was getting into trouble around town. When I returned soon after, she apologized for not trusting me, telling me about a bad experience she had had last year with a couple hikers returning to her home late and intoxicated. She’s been opening her home to hikers for over 20 years, but since then she has a list of rules posted in all the rooms in her home detailing what would not be allowed from her visitors. I told her about my decision to see the doctor that makes house calls and asked if it was alright for him to see me at her house. She said that was fine and joked that maybe he could take a look at her, too. She then told me that I didn’t have to worry about paying her, and that I could stay as long as I needed to. Angels exist.

The next day, she waited with me for the doctor to arrive. The appointment was for 2:30, so I was annoyed when he showed up at 3:20. In about his 60s, his labored breath and straggled appearance explained why he had plans to retire soon. He suggested we do the appointment at the picnic table in Maria’s backyard, so we sat out there and I showed him the poison ivy. He gave me medicine, and then I showed him a how along my shorts waistband the rash was the worst. Apparently, even though I did have bad poison ivy, along with that I also had a fungal infection from my clothes being against my skin constantly and sweating etc. He prescribed me a couple more medications, told me I reminded him of his daughters, and gave me a $25 pity discount.

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My socks hanging on Maria’s clothesline after I did my laundry in her shower with special poison ivy soap. All she asked in return for me staying with her was for assistance with her household chores.

I decided to allow my body to heal without irritating it further, so rather than take advantage of Maria more, I called up my lovely aunt, who lives in Kinnelon, NJ, and asked if I could stay with her and her family for a few days while I healed. She made me feel incredibly welcome, telling me I could stay as long as I needed. The next morning Maria drove me to Wassaic train station.

I took the train from Wassaic to Grand Central Station, walked from Grand Central to Port Authority, got a slice of New York pizza, and took the bus from New York City to a mall about 20 minutes from my aunt’s house. I’ll be staying here for a couple days, until my body starts to heal itself, then it’ll be back to the trail.

This post is my longest yet, and I dedicate it to all the angels in my life,  my aunt Ingrid for leaving me little treasures to find in the room she made for me, my uncle and cousins for letting me stay with them and making me feel so welcome, my cousin Chris for buying me a haircut, the doctor for giving me a discount and taking the time to make sure I received proper care, the hikers who helped cheer me up, Thomas for all the companionship and help, and especially Maria, for taking in a strange, sick girl and treating her like family. Thank you.

– Shiver

2 thoughts on “52 miles in… Still. – Kinnelon, NJ

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