As I was leaving Hanover, I was faced with what I’ve been calling the Goldilocks Conundrum: the first shelter was too close, but the second shelter was too far. What I really needed to find was the place that was just right, about halfway between the two. I double checked my map, hoping to find a place suitable for camping, or at least somewhere with water, but there was nothing. I repositioned my pack and used that as an excuse to let out a big sigh. I’d figure out where I was going to sleep later, for now I just needed to hit the trail and start hiking.
As I approached the first shelter I met a SoBo (southbound) thru-hiker. We did the usual exchange of information about trail conditions ahead and I asked him if he’d seen any good stealth (unofficial) campsites between the two shelters. He thought about it for a few minutes before saying that he hadn’t seen anything. We started to go our separate ways when he remembered something, a bunch of NoBos (northbounders) had mentioned that they’d spent the previous night on the Ice Cream Man’s porch.
The Ice Cream Man’s place sounded intriguing. I asked the next couple of people that I saw about the Ice Cream Man. They confirmed that it was in the perfect location and that he lets thru-hikers tent in his yard or sleep on his porch. They also said that he got his name because he has free ice cream for thru-hikers and that he loves to play croquet. Ice cream, croquet, and a place to stay! That’s definitely where I was going to head for the night.
The Ice Cream Man had a sign up on the trail that read, “His ice cream brings all the hikers to the yard/ His water tastes better than yours/ Damn right, his croquet game is better than yours/ It’s all free yeah there’s no charge.”
I ambled over to the Ice Cream Man’s house, dropped my pack, and looked around. There was a big sign on the front porch welcoming hikers, a hiker book for us to sign, a bunch of chairs for us to relax in, and a freezer full of ice cream on the back porch. I signed the book and then helped myself to some ice cream. The Ice Cream Man wasn’t home, so I relaxed on the front porch looking forward to his arrival.
Out in the yard the croquet wickets were set, and there were mallets and balls enough for 6-12 people. I felt like I’d stumbled through the rabbit hole (down the trail) and was waiting for the queen of hearts (the Ice Cream Man) to get back so that we could resume a surreal game of croquet.
Eventually the Ice Cream Man returned home (he didn’t seem anything at all like the Queen of Hearts) and invited us to a game of croquet. He was very affable as he showed us the ropes while taking us to the cleaners.
Later that evening we decided to play another game of croquet before curling up and sleeping on his porch. Since dusk was approaching, he pulled his car up onto the lawn and used its headlights to illuminate the croquet field. The Ice Cream Man, the Fool, the Voice, Indy, Jungle Gym, and I proceeded to play croquet as the sun went down. Even without a Mad Hatter or the Red Queen, the spectacle of all of the thru-hikers playing croquet seemed worthy of a scene from Alice in Wonderland.