Again I'm at a shelter completely crowded with people. Many flip-floppers. The Appalachian Trail Conference is evidently encouraging flip-flop thru-hikes as a way to combat congestion in Georgia at the beginning of the trail and this is supposed to be the flip-flop bubble. They're all talking about how awful Pennsylvania is and I just think that means they haven't done any hard states yet.
Which is sour of me, I know. Tonight the shelter is full up, five women and one man. Me, another section hiker, three flip-floppers, and a Gamer, the single dude. He is doing thirty miles a day and has red nodules on his feet. I sleep with my head at his feet, because I prefer my head against the wall. But they smell no worse than my own socks, stuffed in my clothes sack as a pillow. I don't mind hiker funk.
The flippers talk about throwing all of their clothes out of their tent because they smell so bad. I know I shouldn't resent them, that they are just baby hikers still in the first quarter of their trail. One of them is planning to exit the trail as it crosses the rail line to New York City, to return home to his doctor in Pennsylvania to check for Lyme disease. Because he is more fatigued every day and his joints hurt.
It's become a joke on the trail, how the symptoms of hiking exactly parallel that of Lyme. I don't joke about Lyme, though—I think people *should* get checked out, and I check myself multiple times daily for deer ticks. But I wonder whether this man'll get back on the trail. I wonder how many of these flippers will make it through Connecticut.
I tell them every state is harder than the last. I let them listen to the crunching as I bend my destroyed knees. The guy with 1400 miles under his belt obsessively probes his feet, ignoring us. We sleep together, listening to breathing and creaks and people rolling over.