June 24 2015
I started the morning by walking into Palmerton and bouncing my resupply box forward. I talked with a few locals and found out that the town was no longer friendly to hikers. This was the town that once had a hostel in the old jailhouse.
I remember thinking that maybe it was never quite friendly to hikers. There was humor in housing us in the jailhouse, but there was also a tinge of power tripping that bothered me. I had been treated several times on trail as a lesser person because I was living outside, not showering, poor…irresponsible? Whatever it was, this town had come to view all hikers as such. And as I would later find out, the party crowd was probably the real reason why we were no longer offered services in Palmerton.
But the town and the people in it seemed to have differing views. The hikers had been rejected as far as resources go, but the townspeople were excited to see a stray hiker wander into town. I did laundry and ate at a lovely diner. Everything in this town seemed perfect. Perfect flowers, perfect park, perfect downtown, perfect diner…it was scary.
I was ill at ease because I walked a highway construction service road to get to town. It went along a cliff that had been blown out to make room for the highway. When I got to the end of the road, I wandered out of an area that was roped off… past a guard gate. I was emerging from the inside of whatever was being guarded. As I passed the gate I talked to the worker and found out this was an old Zinc mining site.
As I was leaving town I waved to the guard and wandered back off into the woods. I walked by the location of the old AT which has been re-routed around the toxic dump areas of the mountain. I then climbed out of Lehigh gap, my first rock climb ever wearing a backpack.
I spent the day experiencing the devastation of the Zinc Superfund Site. The trees were thin and sparse. The forest was missing so there was little shade throughout the day. I stood for awhile along the open ridge and stared down at Palmerton, at the beastly factory that was just outside of town. It extended about three times the length of the city and was placed in a valley that had been completely strip mined. The mine down below was still in operation. I saw the man behind the perfect little town of Palmerton and he was a monster.
I felt sick. There wasn’t any water clean enough for drinking for about twenty miles. I filled up a little from a jug that a trail maintainer offered, but there wasn’t much to go around.
That evening I found my friends at the next shelter, but I camped far from everyone on account of being extremely ill. I was suffering from an extreme case of dehydration. I spent the night doing yoga and drinking sugar water. I kept thinking about Miyazaki’s Toxic forest.