I'd been out all night.
Starting from the parking lot just off of Route 322 below the Clark's Ferry Bridge that crosses the Susquehanna at Duncannon, I had headed north on the Appalachian Trail right around dusk, climbing up Peters Mountain, continuing past the crossing of Route 325, making an abbreviated loop up Stony Mountain on a portion of the unofficial Buzzards Marathon course, before returning along the AT.
Pace be damned, I had clambered up any boulder that looked interesting, stopped as often and for as long as liked to snap photographs, chatted with the many deer crouching silently in the illumination of my headlamp with seeming conviction that so long as they didn't flinch I couldn't really see them, and even sleepily serenaded a porcupine with an infamous Sir Mix-a-Lot song when it would turn and offer only views of its rear end. I had paused frequently to listen to the night sounds; the whoo-whooing of owls, the downward, downward, always downward rushing of water, the soft, nearly imperceptible sound of caterpillar droppings drizzling from the forest canopy (yes, that's a thing), and, in the deepest hours of the night, the elusive, mesmerizing sound of silence.
Just before daybreak, the rain had begun to fall and over the next several hours it showed no signs of letting up. As much as I had enjoyed myself, the piling up of miles, the early stage of sleep deprivation, the relentless rocks of Peters Mountain, and hours of being wet and chilled had caught up with me and found me picking my way along one of the last rocky outcrops with tired, sloppy feet, beginning to dread the final few miles of steep descent back to the trail head.
The clicking of trekking pole tips on rock announced that a hiker was approaching from just below my perch and immediately reminded me that I hadn't seen a single person actually hiking since I'd started. During the night, I had passed the tents of many slumbering backpackers and in the morning I had waved and nodded at many of them as they peeked out of their sodden tents, huddled around smoky campfires, or went through the motions of breaking camp and packing for the day, but at no point had I truly come upon anyone hiking.
I stepped to one side of the trail to allow the ascending hiker clear passage. He lifted his head, squinted his eyes slightly, and declared, "I know you" in an unmistakable Pennsylvania Dutch accent that was familiar and welcoming despite my never having met the man before.
"Backcountry Edge," he said, proudly gesturing at his pack and adding that it was the one I had "advertised on the Internet."
I formally introduced myself and asked him his name and where he was from, learning that Amos hailed from a small town located 4 miles west of the even smaller town that I had grown up in as a small child.
Amos in turn asked how long I'd been out and I shared my overnight adventure and admitted that I was feeling pretty done in. I posed to him the same question and he told me that his "speed hike" had begun a short time earlier from the same parking lot I was headed toward and would end, he hoped, around midnight where the Appalachian Trail crosses over Route 645 just south of Pine Grove.
That's a 42 mile done-in-a-day hike. I would finish my night/day at 37.
Noting how little gear he was carrying, I wondered aloud, "Will you camp when you get there? Will someone be meeting you?"
He grinned, shrugged, and replied almost sheepishly, "I have one of those push scooters, you know that the Amish people have." It was stashed near the trail head and once he was done hiking, he would scoot himself the 15 road miles back home.
Smiling broadly, I said, "Amos, you've got a big day ahead of you. Don't let me hold you up."
"This is unbelievable, meeting you out here on the trail like this," Amos replied with a warm smile of his own and a "gee whiz" shaking of his head.
"It's been a pleasure," I agreed as Amos turned to go.
I watched him deftly navigate the ledge, slightly stunned that I had made his day.
He'd certainly made mine.
Those last few miles back to the car?
They weren't so bad after all.