Route 44 crosses the Appalachian Trail less than a mile outside of Salisbury Center, just past an 1851 Italianate style house owned by Barbara Nicholls, a retired New Yorker editor and gallery owner.
Years ago when her daughter was young, Nicholls would leave diet Coke and beer at the trailhead along with a diary, which hikers would sign – sometimes with stories from the trail. Sometimes she'd take one in for the night, as she did with me on Monday after my first day on the road.
Her house is known by some old-timers as the former House of Herbs, so named for a business that once was there. Herbal businesses will pop up at least two more times along Route 44, most prominently in Coventry.
On Tuesday morning Nicholls took me out to the trail, where a young, clean-cut through hiker from Virginia named Whitey – trail names only on the Georgia-to-Maine byway – happened by. Nicholls chatted and took a minute to swat a fly off his side.
Rand’s View, one of the trail’s great vistas, was said to be not far off, so I headed into the woods to see it. But time turns out it was 4 miles in, too much of a detour off 44. Instead I determined to hike until the wind in the trees and the chirping birds grew louder than the cars and trucks of the highway.
Or maybe I'd make Billy’s View, closer than Rand’s. I asked hikers along the way how far that was and they'd always say a time or a distance much shorter than the truth. Time and space have their own life out in the woods, or as one hiker said, “it all blends together after three months.”
I hoofed it out 2.5 miles and back, short of either vista point, but I figured I’d see plenty along the route these next three weeks, and a 5-mile add-on was plenty. And I'd forgotten about the traffic noise by that point, far enough away that nature was all I could hear.
The hikers must have a mixed view of the traffic, as it breaks up the solitude but also represents a possible break in Salisbury, one of the postal drop points they use for provisions. If they're lucky they'll meet Nicholls, still a proud British citizen after all these years, and she will ask a question or two.
At dinner in the Boathouse restaurant Monday night, the college-student server gave his first name and she asked for his surname, which she recognized. “Oh,” she said to him, “your mother is marvelous!”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun