Honeybuns and I both started waking up as the sun came in through the small windows in the church library. We were a little slow moving, but we eventually found motivation to pack up. We left a note for the church and stood outside for a hitch back in to town.
We were fortunately in a school zone, so everyone had to slow down and stare at our lovely, innocent faces and long, stuck out thumbs. We got a ride quickly. An older woman, probably in her mid 70s, pulled over. She had neat, tidy grey hair and was listening to NPR in her neat, tidy sedan. We explained that we had stayed at the church and just needed a ride back into town. She let us in and we drove off.
She asked us about the trail, and told us that she hadn’t picked up hitchhikers since her kids were in college. Back then, she said, it had been safer, and everyone had done it. Her son had hitchhiked from British Columbia back to New England. We had a lovely ride, and she dropped us off right in town.
A quick stop in CVS for more alcohol swabs ended up with the pharmacist giving them to me for free. More kindness.
Back to Lou’s for another breakfast and more story swapping with Honeybuns.
$17 later, I was on the Vermonter 55. From Brattleboro to the Brattleboro bus station where I spent a tense few hours waiting for another bus with a different section of New England. I learned about different DCF caseworkers, Crazy Sue, sis’s new stroller, and the man across from me had a huge hole in the crotch of his pants. They all somehow knew each other (two of them were sisters?).
The (free!) bus came. From there I transferred to a different (free!) bus at a grocery store. And on this last bus, I asked the bus driver if he could drop me off at the trail head. He said sure, no problem.
15 minutes later, he pulled off at the Bennington trail head, and I stepped off with a thanks and my backpack, crossed the road, and headed south. My flip flop section had started.
I walked up the stone steps, grateful for every minute I’d ever done on a stair stepper.
And then smooth sailing. I considered tenting on a mountain, to watch the meteor shower again, but decided I wanted at least another mile or two, so I pushed on to the shelter.
And I’m glad I did. I had fun talking to joyride and Mississippi. Joyride had a great backstory for his trail name, involving a hitch in Erwin, TN, a stolen car, an arrest, and white supremacists in jail. Mississippi gave me a contact at the southern end of Connecticut.
The trail is full of surprises. Who knew that carpenter’s tempter tantrum (and the more I consider it, the more I think it was a temper tantrum) would have given me a great zero with the NOBOs, and this incredible flip? I learned to navigate the public transportation system on New England (sort of). I sat in a terrifying bus station for hours with people I never would have encountered in any other way.
Back when I worked at the church, the pastors there first really taught me grace for people in circumstances I couldn’t imagine. Beyond pity or judgement. Sitting in the bus station, I was grateful for those lessons; here I was, smelling worse than anyone else. I am still privileged in many ways– the nutrition and care I had growing up will always be reflected in my bones and face, in my height, and in my skin; I looked different in some ways. But in other ways, I was somehow transient. We were connected by our dependence on the public transportation system (although, again, there is a system of trail angels and shuttles I could have called if I needed to, and I retained privilege).
Endless grace and comfort for the people who wait hours in hot, tiny boxes for a bus. Endless grace for the bus drivers who joke on the radios and turn around for a late passenger and know all the gravel driveways by heart. Endless grace for the DCF caseworkers who are talked about. Endless grace for the police officers canvassing the area for someone; cell phones came out as soon as the cops drove up and everyone started calling people. “I don’t know who they’re looking for! They’re showing everyone some picture.”
There was a little girl with her mother, and her school project, in the bus station. They bought a Pepsi and a Sunkist and they talked about school and she watched me read and they talked about Crazy Sue and Sis with the new stroller asking for a cigarette and then they left when the police came, wanting to get out before the cops came inside the bus station. She pushed her hair out of her eyes like my little sister used to, when she was a little girl who liked to wear dresses with pockets. And Sis came in with her new yellow stroller and her boy, he’s two now, and he put his chubby little arm up over his eyes to keep the sun out of them while she smoked outside with Pop. Jess left earlier because someone was going to come by looking for rent money that she didn’t have, so she and her boyfriend were going to the shelter, she guessed, is what she told Pop when he loaned her a dollar for a soda. When the woman came by asking for Jess, Pop lied and said he hadn’t seen her. Maybe she was up at the bar?
And Sis and the boy and I got on the same bus, along with the man who talked to himself and said the bus station was like the Wild Wild West. The boy ate cheese its and Sis got frustrated, but a man was at a gravel driveway to help her with the stroller.
And the man who talked to himself fell asleep.
And as I’m laying here on my foam sleeping pad in the woods, thinking about all of these lives I heard so much about today, I wonder what they thought about me– that stranger, on the bench, with the backpack. The one who got off the bus and disappeared into the woods. Or did they even spare a thought for me, when they were going about their lives?
Trip total: 130.8
MVP: breakfast sandwich
LVP: right knee