September 2 ~ Kirkridge Shelter, PA at milepoint 900.7 south, 82 days since start of hike, averaging 11.0 miles per day
Day 82. We spent most of the day in Delaware Water Gap and nearby Stroudsburg doing laundry and a little bit of grocery shopping. Everything is more complicated, I am coming to learn, when you don’t have a car. The local outfitter, The Pack Shack, runs a shuttle to Stroudsburg ($1 each way) as a favor for thru-hikers, but even so we spent 5.5 hours doing chores that I could do in 45 minutes at home.
I almost created a major problem at the laundromat. In addition to washing my clothes and Jake’s, my plan was to treat my clothes with Permethrin, a tick and mosquito repellant that will last through 10 washings. This is heavy-duty stuff. The military uses it, but it’s not available in any store I’ve seen. I got it through a catalog called Travel Medicine. The instructions and labels on the bottles are filled with EPA warnings and the manufacturer supplies rubber gloves with the bottles. This stuff smells pretty bad too. Fortunately, the laundromat had a tiny bathroom where I could mix the Permethrin with the required gallon of water. At home, of course, this whole process would have been a lot easier – I have buckets and a big back yard in which to lay out the clothes to dry. Here, I had a plastic trash can in a closet-sized powder-room. Naturally, the solution spilled on the floor – about a quart of it – and started flowing towards the door. I found a small rag and started mopping like crazy. The exhaust fan was already on but it was not match for the fumes coming up from the floor. Does this stuff melt linoleum, I wondered. Meanwhile, I was getting a little concerned that people in the laundromat were waiting outside the door, wanting to use the bathroom. I had been monopolizing it for about 10 minutes and I had a lot more bailing and mopping to do in order to return some semblance of order to the powder room. When I finally opened the door – with the fan still going – I saw a guy move toward the bathroom with some urgency. He did not look happy. Meanwhile, I took my plastic bag full of chemically treated clothes to the only vacant lot I could find and let them air a little bit before throwing them in the dryer. Then the trick was to get them to dry before the shuttle returned. The laundromat operator recommended that we set the dryers on low, and I tried that. But my clothes were soaked; I would be in that laundromat for a couple of days if I didn’t turn up the heat. The high setting, in combination with the Permethrin, could have been a volatile mix, but there were no explosions, and when the shuttle arrived, the clothes were almost dry. I found in the dryer, however, a strangely shaped glob of milky white plastic, which was either the remnant of some previous user’s rayon clothing or a new life form created by exposing Permethrin to high temperatures.
When we returned to the hostel in Delaware Water Gap, we were greeted by 9 newly arrived southbound thru-hikers, all of them folks we had met on the Trail. In all, we saw 18 old and new SoBo friends there. Jake and I enjoy the camaraderie of hikers – he probably more so than I because, at age 53, I am more than twice as old as most of them. But there were a couple of hikers my age, and we all get along pretty well.
One of the interesting discussions at the hostel concerned the subject of “ Trail magic.” Jake had seen a magazine called “The Register” at one of the shelters. It’s a periodical for trail maintainers, and the editorial in this particular issue railed against the evils of Trail magic. According to the editorial, these acts of kindness to thru-hikers are robbing us of the full experience of the Trail, because they are making life too easy for us.
It should come as no surprise that all of the thru-hikers at the hostel disagreed with this point of view. But the reason people disagreed was not simply because we like to have people offer us watermelon when we hike past their picnic tables in the park. The value of the Trail magic is not the coddling – none of us on the Trail feel particularly coddled. Rather, it’s the experience of being the recipient of these acts of kindness, extended by strangers to strangers, that struck us all as powerful – both for the giver and the receiver. Trail magic comes in many forms. Some of it is institutionalized – like below-cost shuttles for hikers, or the hostel itself. Some of it is completely unexpected, like watermelon in the park. There’s something about the hike that inspires these acts of kindness, and to be the recipient (often, the needy recipient) of this help provides one of the most potent lessons of the Trail. We can’t always do for ourselves. Asking for help is not shameful. This is probably more of a guy issue, but in all of our society we are taught, in subtle ways, not to ask for what we need. On the Trail, we learn to approach people with our mostly simple requests for help, with open hearts, and with the knowledge, growing daily inside us, that these are favors we will return when our hike is over.
Jake and I did manage to squeeze in 6.4 miles of hiking at the end of the day. We climbed Mt. Minsi and got our first clear view of the Delaware River and the broad shoulders of the mountains that dip suddenly into the Gap here. Down in the valleys we saw tufts of smoke – probably barbecue smoke – rising from backyards and parks on this Saturday of Labor Day weekend. All of those Labor Day rituals – in fact, all of the ordinary rituals guided by calendars and school-vacation schedules – seem as distant as the puffs of smoke. Labor Day will be just another day of hiking up here on the ridge, although we are reminded of the calendar from time to time by the larger numbers of day hikers. Today the remoteness from the world of calendars and barbecues feels great – a bit lonely at times – but it reaffirms my primary focus right now, which is this hike.
Finally got a new pen. At the hostel yesterday were the Moosekateers, Li’l Debbie and Candyman, Banjo Bill, 5th Wheel, and Blue Gun Canoe. It was very hot.
I went down to the pizza joint with Rabbit and got the fastest pizza ever. I ordered a 16” plain and paid, and we were wandering off to find a place to sit and wait when the guy behind the counter said “Your pie’s ready.” It was probably about 30 seconds after I paid for it. Clearly he had a pizza cooked already, but I found it very amusing nonetheless. Later as I was sitting by the phone waiting for Dad to finish talking to Mom so I could talk to her, a lady came along who needed to make a quick call to some friends. Dad had not yet dialed so he let her go ahead. When she was done, she engaged in a little conversation about how pricey payphones are. I talked with her a little about that, and we got on to talking about the hike and going back to school in January and how you have to seize opportunities like this while you can. Then we got onto the topic of how I was hiking with my Dad. She was surprised and amazed to hear that the man in the phone booth was my father. She went on and on about the subject. She was very gregarious and talkative. It was pleasant to talk to her though, and we talked for a while about fathers and mothers and doing stuff and how she had never had a father or even a father-in-law, as her parents divorced when she was 7 or so, and something happened to her husband’s father.
This morning we took the shuttle bus from the Pack Shack to Stroudsburg, where the Laundromat and grocery are. We spent far too long there, and came back late. One random thing of note: I bought some stuff there – a bandana and 3 9-hour candles – and the total price came to $6.66. Note that if you rotate those candles they become 3 6-hour candles – 3 6’s. Eerie stuff. Anyways, when we returned to the hostel a huge group of our friends had shown up – Sweatbox, Old Man Sam, Res. Dogs, Han Solo, Wetfoot, Frog, Merlin, and Moondance. They were all spending the night, and the Moosekateers, Li’l Debbie and Candyman, and Blue Gun Canoe were staying another night. It was going to be very crowded tonight. We hung out for a while, and the newcomers invited us to a party they were planning in Palmerton, where there is supposed to be a very hiker-friendly bar. It would have been great to hang out with them, but we declined on account of schedule. It was an easy 6.6 mile hike up here, mostly very flat. A small group of weekenders stood aside to let me pass on the first long ascent. As I breezed by I heard one of them mutter “Wow.” Whether it was in reference to the size of my pack or the speed with which I was attacking the mountain or both or all three I shall never know, but it felt good. It could also have been in reference to my odor, but discarded that idea.
I just discovered a millipede crawling on my sleeping pad, and after a short observation removed him. Those buggers are strong! I’m glad it didn’t crawl across me when I was trying to sleep, or I would have been unpleasantly surprised.
September 3 ~ Larry A. Smith Shelter, PA at milepoint 914.5 south, 83 days since start of hike, averaging 11.0 miles per day
Trail Data – Day 83: AT Miles hiked today: 13.8 Hikers we camped with: Banjo Bill, 5th Wheel, Wet Foot, Vince (AMC trail-runner)
One of the joys of the Trail is meeting people whose paths would probably never cross our own except in places along the Trail. This morning Jake and I had a chance to talk with a southbound thru-hiker, Mr. Clean, who spent the evening in a tent behind the shelter. Mr. Clean, one of the few Asian-American thru-hikers I’ve met, is in his early thirties and got his name because he used to shave regularly – he has now given that up. He began his hike on January 1 in Maine (!) and plans to finish in Georgia at the end of the year. This is his second thru-hike and living on the Trail has now become a way of life for him. Every now and then he gets a part-time job – forester, snowboard instructor, you name it – so that he has enough money to go back to the woods. He’s adept at identifying edible plants, particularly mushrooms, and he gave us tips for sauteing various kinds, as well as advice about the best way to prepare acorns. He smokes a pipe and seemed as content as any person I’ve ever met. He also had a keen sense of fun – there was a wonderful twinkle in his eye. Both Jake and I wished we could have spent more time with him. But we had to get going.
The Trail follows a long – and I mean LONG – ridge from Delaware Water Gap to the Maryland line. Almost all of the Trail in Pennsylvania is a ridge walk, punctuated every 10 miles or so by a gap with a moderately steep drop to a river or highway. Then the Trail climbs back to the ridge. The rocks along this stretch of the Trail are as tough to walk on as anything we’ve seen on the Trail, so even though the elevation chart is relatively flat, it’s hard to do a lot of miles per day.
The terrain got particularly rocky at a spot called Wolf Rocks – a jumble of boulders that marks the southernmost extent of glaciation on the AT. While I took a mid-morning break on one of the boulders, I met a day hiker who was fascinated by the father-son aspect of our hike, and also by the idea of a sabbatical from a law firm. It turned out that he too is a lawyer, representing plaintiffs in environmental litigation. What led me to talk with him was his smile: it glowed. I learned that his adopted faith is Buddhism, and so I shared with him the following comment that I encountered recently in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book “Wherever You Go, There You Are”: “When I was a Buddhist, it drove my parents and friends crazy, but when I am a buddha, nobody is upset at all.” My hiker friend loved it. (I didn’t even bother to ask him if he’d heard the one about the Buddhist at the hot dog vendor’s stand: What did he ask for? “Make me one with everything.” I’m sure he’s heard it a thousand times.) This Buddhist lawyer was another guy I would have gladly spent more time with.
A few miles down the path I encountered a sign welcoming hikers to the AT. The sign describes this particular part of the Trail as “one of the most beautiful sections of the AT.” I am not sure that I agree, but then again, I have been spending most of my time looking at my feet because of the incessant rocks.
The weather for the past ten days has been consistently warm, cloudy, humid and hazy. We’ve been sweating like crazy, but we’re thankful for the extended respite from mud and rain. This afternoon, when Jake and I reached a gap where we planned to have lunch, we decided to hitch a ride into the nearest town, Wind Gap, only a mile away, to get out of the heat. Our plan was to go to the movie theater and watch anything they were showing, as long as the theater was air conditioned. We got a ride with the parents of a thru-hiker – they were slackpacking their son, and waiting for him at the trailhead. The theater was closed, but they dropped us off at a shopping center where the supermarket provided us with chilled air and a salad bar.
Feeling fully chilled out, we got back on the Trail and hiked the last four miles to the shelter. The Trail gets very quiet as dusk approaches, but then, just after sunset, the cicadas (aka locust) began chirping. They have emerged only within the last few days – part of an eleven or seventeen-year cycle, we’ ve been told. A forest full of cicadas turns the quiet evening into a nearly deafening roar. I could not hear or be heard over the din from one side of the small camp to the other. With six people crowded into this compact shelter, however, the noise made it easier to sleep. We don’t notice each other’s snoring so much. Even so, it surprises me how easily we hikers get used to laying down on our sleeping pads only 2” from each other. Ordinarily, I prefer a little more privacy than that. Out here, privacy is mostly non-existent and sleep is a necessity. So, even if the Trail leaves us feeling exposed and vulnerable, and sleeping fitfully, we learn to let down our guard, close our eyes, and get such rest as we can, so that we can hike tomorrow.
Due to the water situation in the area, we decided to do only 14 miles to a shelter with springs. We met for lunch in Wind Gap. After lunch Dad came up with the idea of getting a bottle of soda to use as extra water capacity, and while we’re in town why not see a movie? Fortunately, just as we were setting out Han Solo’s parents pulled up (Hans Solo is now H-Monster, BTW). They were slacking him and some of his friends, and we asked them to take us into town, and they were happy to oblige. The movie options were unappealing, but we went to the supermarket for some soda and fruit and such like, and hung around for a while. On our way out a Mennonite couple offered us a ride back to the trail. After drinking a 2-liter of orange soda I was on a major sugar rush and really tore up the next 4 miles. I passed Hans and Moondance in their camp, and stopped to chat briefly. At the shelter 5th Wheel, Banjo Bill, and Vince the Ridgerunner were here.
September 4 ~ Palmerton, PA at milepoint 930.5 south, 84 days since start of hike, averaging 11.1 miles per day
Trail Data: Day 84 AT miles hiked today: 16 Hikers we’re staying with: Moon Dance (and her dog Morgan), H-Monster, Wet Foot, Merlin, 5th Wheel, Frog, and the Reservoir Dogs (Mr. Blond, Mr. White, and Mr. Pink)
I have never hiked through an EPA Superfund site before, but that’s what Jake and I did today. It was a scene of breathtaking devastation. One minute you are walking across a wooded ridge, and the next minute you begin to see a blighted landscape of shriveled trees, then only gray shards of trees, a few withered stumps, remnants of limbs, all of them shattered and every root and branch a uniform holocaust gray. The top soil was gone, leaving a moonscape of shattered, broken rocks, littered with the remains of blasted trees, as far as we could see.
The cause of this devastation was a zinc smelting plant here in Palmerton. Prevailing winds carried fumes from the plant containing sulfur dioxide and various heavy metals up and across the hillside. The EPA shut down the plant in 1980 and ordered a clean-up, but the down-wind forest areas may never recover, from the look of things.
Just when I thought I had seen the worst of it, I came round a bend and my heart sank several inches further. I had seen only the tip of the iceberg. Vast stretches of wanton destruction – thousands of dead acres – spread across the ridge. The only living creatures I saw during an hour of hiking were a few scattered spiders. In one area, just below the peak of the ridge, I saw a grove of oak trees with normal-looking trunks but blasted, shriveled tops. It was as shocking to the eye as the sight of a veteran or a child with a missing limb. Anyone who doubts the wisdom of our pollution-control laws should hike this section of the Trail.
Still feeling shaken by this horrific scene, I climbed down into Lehigh Gap though the steepest boulder field we’ve seen since NH. Some of it was almost straight down – it felt dangerous. When I reached the bottom, I was glad Jake and I decided to spend the night at the hikers hostel in Palmerton. My back ached and the vision of a bed was tantalizing.
This hostel is a bit of a novelty on the Trail: it’s located in the basement of Palmerton’s borough hall, which is also the town’s police station and jail. The town provides bunk beds in a large, open, concrete-encased basement. It’s not deluxe, but it is dry.
A few random observations:
-Pennsylvania, we are told, has the highest rate of gun ownership in the U.S. We keep hearing blasts in the distance. One of the signs on the Trail today was a piece of sheet metal decorated with so many bullet holes that it was illegible.
-The water supply is sketchy on this part of the Trail, so much so that Jake and I had to carry enough water today to last us for the entire 16 miles. That’ s a lot of water on a hot day.
-Civilization is getting closer and closer to the Trail as we move South. The AT is only a ribbon, connecting 14 states. The ribbon sometimes swells and sometimes – because of real estate development – contracts. We are sometimes close enough to hear dogs barking in back yards.
-The hiker box at last night’s shelter was a huge metal cookie tin with an illustration of two early Puritans. A sign on the tin read: “AT Pilgrim Fuel,” so I had to open it and see what was inside. The tin contained Ramen noodles, brown sugar, and a few other hiker supplies. I didn’t need any of those things, but as with other gifts, it’s the thought that counts.
-Palmerton offers both wholesome and not-so-wholesome hospitality. At the IGA Supermarket, thru-hikers are given apples. At Mugshots, a local bar, thru-hikers get their first draft and their first shot of liquor for free. (They probably know that most thru-hikers will not stop at one.)
-Palmerton got its name from the president and owner of the zinc company that dominated this company town. Palmerton’s zinc plant shipped more zinc than any factory in the world. The plant covered more than 1,000 acres and employed 3,000 people. The Palmerton Land Company (owned by the same fellow) built houses for these workers and held the mortgage. The pollution from this plant not only killed virtually all of the trees on the ridge downwind from the town but also created a lead pollution problem in the town itself because of smelting by-products. Much to my surprise, the bulletin board in the borough hall proudly displays a large antiquated sign from the early 1900’s, posted by the Palmerton Land Company, encouraging workers to move to the town where jobs in the plant (now closed, of course) are readily available. While reading this sign, I could hear the sound of teenagers, roaring their cars on Main Street, where there’s nothing much to do, as Palmerton tries to find a new economic base for itself.
Early evening – Palmerton P.O.
We got off to a late start this morning and did ~16 mi. to here. The terrain was quite rocky but flat. There was one section where the leaves had already started falling off the tress, and were bright red underfoot. It was very beautiful. We also met another potential “Last Northbounder” today, named Frogger. He knew he wasn’t likely to be able to climb Katahdin, but he wanted to get to Baxter State Park.
For the last 5 miles or so we walked across this ridge that was just above an old zinc factory and was quite desolate. Evidently the fumes had killed a lot of the plantlife, and erosion had left bare rocks. It had a very barren look, with dead trees sticking up out of jumbled rock fields. It provided us with some great views of the surrounding landscapes, too. The last mile was a steep ascent down some very jumbled rocks. It was some difficult climbing, but fun. I got to the road just as 5th Wheel was getting a hitch, and got the same ride. This hostel is in the basement of the Borough Hall, and is pretty funky. A lot of the same hikers who were at the DWG hostel are here. Most of them are at the bar now.
September 5 ~ Allentown Hiking Club Shelter at milepoint 948.0 south, 85 days since start of hike, averaging 11.2 miles per day
Trail Data – Day 85 AT miles hiked today: 17.5 Hikers we camped with: none People seen on the Trail today: 4 bird-watchers (it’s hawk migration season) 2 day hikers 0 thru-hikers Interesting creatures: 3 grouse; 2 deer
It’s possible that Jake and I have hiked in more beautiful weather than we had yesterday, but if so, I can’t remember when. He and I have been going on hiking trips more or less every year since he was 6, and my memory is frail, but the weather today was, in a word, stunning. A cold front swept in last night and booted out the hot, humid, hazy air that has hung over us for almost two weeks. Today the high temperature was 68 degrees on the ridge, with a light breeze that kept the bugs at bay, and the clear skies and dry air gave the landscape a sparkle we haven’t seen in awhile. Climbing out of Palmerton and the Lehigh Gap on a rather ordinary rocky hill felt invigorating – there was a spring in our step. The first mile or two along the ridge gave us views of the flatlands on either side, and even though the scenery was not so unusual (farms, fields, a few scattered villages) it was lit with a brilliance that made my heart sing.
Our morning in Palmerton began early. Jake and I were among the first customers at Bert’s, a blue-collar diner in the center of town. Bert’s could have been peeled off the canvas of a Norman Rockwell painting – the waitresses and the customers looked like they would have been entirely at home in the 1950’s. Jake and I each did a couple of errands – mine including picking up some Tylenol and a chunk of foam rubber to help my back pain. Throughout the day I tried to adjust the foam rubber so that it would protect my back from my pack, but I was only marginally successful.
The Trail took us over some challenging rock formations today: Bear Rocks and the Knife Edge were particularly tough. At the Knife Edge flat boulders are piled up on each side of the ridge at odd angles. The only way to cross is at the peak of this ungainly pile – hence the name. I don’t know how the Bear Rocks got their name, but they looked more like a habitat for snakes – medium and large boulders spread out over several hundred yards of trail and out to the edges of the ridge.
I climbed out to a ledge after lunch and got the big view. I stood transfixed by the beauty of the place. A half-moon rose over a wide valley, in which the fields and trees looked from the distance like well manicured lawns surrounded by hedge. Two hawks sailed above, cruising on columns of warm air, one of them seeming to cross paths with a jet passing silently overhead. The sky was a rich blue with nary a cloud. The only thing that enabled me to leave that peaceful spot was the sure knowledge that I’d be hiking in the dark later if I didn’t.
Our goal for the day – this Allentown shelter – was a manageable number of miles (17.5) but we got off to a late start because of our town errands and because the rock formations were slow going. We did have some smooth stretches on back woods paths that used to be dirt roads. On those stretches, I can do 3 miles an hour or perhaps a tad more if (as today) I’m starting to get panicky about the dark closing in. But the rocky stretches slow me down to about 1.5 – 2.0 miles per hour.
The lack of water continues to be a problem for us. Before we reached the shelter this evening, I made a side trip to the two springs that supply water for this campsite. Both were dry, which made the steep climb back to the Trail feel particularly onerous. The only reason we had enough water to make dinner was that one of the bird watchers we encountered midday at a crossroad gave each of us some water. I think she knew how dry the Trail in Pennsylvania is this time of year. More Trail magic!
This shelter itself is a good symbol of the spirit of volunteerism that keeps the Trail alive. It was built 3 years ago with a relatively modest sum ($5,000) and 1,000 hours of donated labor. It includes a brand new composting privy (described as “five star” in one of the Trail register entries) and an outdoor stone fireplace for campfires.
It was just about cold enough for a fire this evening. But building one is a lot of work, and Jake and I have this place to ourselves. We’re exhausted – or at least I am. Jake is still reading and writing as I cash in my chips for the night. Time for my aching back to do some healing!
This morning we did some errands and got another late start. When I was leaving town, I didn’t really feel like hitching. It was a beautiful day for hiking – crisp, clear, dry – so I just walked the ~2 miles back to the trail. I wound up having to go under this big piece of construction machinery that was tearing up the bridge, but the workers were friendly and turned it off briefly. At the trailhead I met this hilarious old man who goes out for short day hikes in the area. He asked me a few of the standard questions, and then started telling me about how the zinc factory had released all these heavy metals into the air that killed off the trees on yesterday’s ridgeline, and how he was drafted into the army for WWII, and how that had paid for college. Then he told me all about what the area had looked like when he was a little boy growing up, and pointed out all these features and described what they had been like, and pointed out where his mother had lived before she was married, and described how she would put him on the train nearby to send him 6 miles to his grandpa’s house – on the train, by himself, when he was 5 years old! Then he started jumping around and making gestures and describing how big and grand the train was when he was little, and it was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud at his honest boyish glee. What he said struck a chord, too, about how everything seems much grander when you’re little. That was the high point of the conversation. All along I had been thinking I should get going on the trail, but some instinct told me to keep listening to what he had to say. That instinct proved correct. Eventually, he got into his car and drove off. His penultimate words to me were that I should find a young blonde to hike with – although he admitted, I might not get as much hiking done if I did that. His final words, from the window of his car, were to get a doctorate degree. I said “OK, I’ll think about it.” But then he got very serious and told me how his grandfather had come over from Russia with nothing, but he and his five brothers were now doing quite well – he had part of a doctorate, one brother had a Ph.D., another was a minister, another owned the Bethlehem something-or-other, and I forget what the third one was. In any case, he believed fervently that I should get a doctorate degree. It was then that I decided I would. The whole encounter was just one of those mystical trail events that are inexplicable. I left that parking lot with a huge grin on my face.
Talking with the guy in the parking lot was by far the most fascinating event of the day, and outshines the mundane details of the rest of the day, so I’ll end here.
September 6 ~ Port Clinton, PA at milepoint 970.6 south, 86 days since start of hike, averaging 11.3 miles per day
Trail Data: Day 86 AT miles hiked today: 22.6 Hikers we camped with: Banjo Bill, Footprints People seen on the Trail today: -3 Birdwatchers -10 Day hikers -No thru-hikers Interesting creatures: copperhead snake, lotsa hawks
Jake and I hiked a lot of miles today because we wanted to see Port Clinton, which has been a traditional hiker stop for years. The town experienced a bit of a revival when the AT was routed through it in 1928. Even now, though, the town has a population of only 400. There’s a post office, a peanut shop, a motorcycle shop, a landscaping company called “Mud’s Lawncare Service,” and 2 bars. One of the bars is in the Port Clinton Hotel, which used to be considered a hiker-friendly spot. The hotel has Trail registers going back to the early years of thru-hiking. New owners, however, seem to be treating hikers “like second-class citizens,” according to a Trail register we saw just north of here. “The owners don’t seem to realize,” explained one hiker’s entry, “that some of us are professional and business people, and we don’t appreciate being treated as outcasts.”
I stopped into the Hotel briefly this evening and was not treated badly. Of course, I didn’t really put them to the test. The sign on the door said that hikers would not be served dinner unless they showered first, and that showers were available for $5.00. I was going to have dinner down the road with Jacob (couscous a la camp stove), but I was wondering how they decide whether a hiker has showered recently enough to be served dinner.
I walked down the main street of town – there are only two streets of any length in this town but they go for about half a mile. On one side of the main street there are mostly older brick and frame houses. Along the other side, with their backs to the Little Schuylkill River, are mostly trailer homes, or worse. At the far end of town, where the town folk can’t smell us, there’s a large pavilion where hikers are allowed to stay. Across from the pavilion there ’s a grassy picnic area with an outhouse that seems to flow directly into the river. A well with a hand pump used to provide water but it’s apparently no longer working.
Even with these primitive facilities, however, Port Clinton deserves credit for housing us at all. Members of the St. John’s United Church of Christ, which owns the pavilion, supply jugs of tap water for hikers, and people in the town, while not overly friendly, were not hostile. Daniel Boone was born just south of here and is reported to have camped near a bridge at the center of town. He moved on.
We decided to spend the night, even though the sound of 18-wheelers roaring through town all night kept me just this side of sleep for much of the night. The temperatures dipped into the forties, and I was wearing almost all of my clothes to keep warm – but this town was definitely worth seeing. And seeing it from the pavilion, rather than the hotel, gave us a more vivid impression of the place.
On the hike today coming into Port Clinton I tripped over one of 18 zillion rocks that decorate the Trail in Pennsylvania. I really shouldn’t blame the Trail – I’m clumsy enough to trip on a bare carpet. But I fell hard, most of force concentrated on my right hand, which felt broken at first. One of the problems with being very clumsy on a rock-strewn trail is that when you fall, it’s not going to be an easy landing. I lay on the ground, unsnapped the various fasteners that had me pinned to my pack, and checked out my fingers. I could still grip with each finger, though painfully. I dusted myself off and decided to press on.
The hypochondriac in me said I should get the hand x-rayed as soon we reached a town. The other half of me – the one that’s embarrassed by the hypochondriac - said: tough it out; if it still hurts in a day or two, you can go see a doctor. By the time we reached Port Clinton, the hypochondriac had lost the argument.
Another memorable event today: seeing a copperhead at a rock formation called The Pinnacle. The snake was curled up, apparently asleep, under a rock ledge, just a few feet away from the granite slab where Jake and I were sitting, enjoying the view. We had seen numerous warnings in Trail registers about snakes at The Pinnacle. One of the registers includes an entry from northbound Seaweed Sally, who saw her first poisonous snake there. “I am no longer a copperhead virgin!” she proclaimed breathlessly in the register. Even though the one we saw was small (2 –3 feet), I had a hard time getting comfortable with the view, which was stunning. We could see a broad agricultural valley with clarity because of the bright skies and clean air; I think I could see every yellow school bus in the county making its rounds, almost like a gigantic layout for toy trains, minus the trains. We also watched, in amazement, as a dozen or two hawks danced their slow, sweeping circles in the air, weaving in and out of each other’s paths, like an elaborate, silent contra dance in the sky.
But then there was this snake. Apparently the juvenile snakes can sometimes be more dangerous to humans than the larger adult snake. Why? Because the adults can control the release of their venom, which they save for animals they want to eat. If they just want you to go away, the adults may bite but you are spared the full blast of venom. The younger snakes, like youth everywhere, are less inhibited and have less self-control.
So Jake and I decided to get going. But for the late hour and the copperhead, we might have stayed a while. You don’t get views like that one every day, even on the Trail.
A final thought. Jake and I had an interesting experience today when we stopped at the Eckville Shelter for lunch. It’s an unusual shelter – a small barn in back of the home of a former thru-hiker (“Lazee”), with electricity and a supply of cold drinks and ice cream bars in a fridge on the back porch of his home (hikers are asked to leave a donation in a can). The most extraordinary thing, however, was the scrapbook of photos of thru-hikers. Lazee, who wasn’t home when we stopped by, evidently photographs all the thru-hikers who stay there, and we got to see pictures of several hundred folks who are hiking the Trail this year – people whose register entries we’ve been reading for several months but have never met. It’s an interesting community out here – we SoBo’s, NoBo’s, hobo’s, and BoBo’s (bourgeois bohemians). We feel a connection with each other, even those we haven’t met, because we’re walking the same path. We may be doing it for different reasons, and we may have little else in common, but the feeling of fellowship runs deep.
September 7 ~ Black Swatara Spring, PA at milepoint 983.7 south, 87 days since start of hike, averaging 11.3 miles per day
Trail Data: Day 87 AT Miles hiked: 13.1 Total miles hiked: 19.1 People we saw on the Trail: 0 Interesting creatures: Rabbit, 4 deer, tiny millipede
I woke up this morning at the pavilion in Port Clinton with one thing and only one thing on my mind: breakfast, my favorite meal of the day. There is, according to the Thru-hikers Guide, only one place here that serves breakfast, the 3C’s Family Restaurant. Although the passing trucks woke me at 3, 4, and 5 a.m., I waited until 6 a.m. to leave a note for Jake and hike up the road about a quarter of a mile, on the theory that any good breakfast spot on a truck route must be open by 6 a.m. I saw a billboard as I neared the 3C’s: “Open 4 a.m. – 3 p.m.” I’m in luck I thought. I read further: “Breakfast served anytime! Affordable family prices. Try our famous pancakes, French toast, omelets…” I was getting closer, in fact I could see a light on in the building, when I saw yet another sign: “3C’s Restaurant – Your breakfast specialist,” with a cartoon drawing of a chef with a white hat, a mustache and a discerning look. My hopes turned to dust, however, when I arrived and saw nothing but Tyvek paper and construction debris. The place was closed. A large truck had apparently driven though the front of the building, and the whole place is now getting a facelift. It was a long quarter mile back to the pavilion, then on another half mile to wait for the Post Office to open at 7:30 a.m.
The Postmaster gave me our two boxes – one with our food and the other with my old 80-liter Arcteryx backpack. I asked Beth to send it to me, even though it’s 3 lbs. heavier than the 40-liter pack I’ve been carrying, because it’s more comfortable and I’m trying to get rid of my lower back pain. Hauling all of this stuff back to the pavilion was a big project. I put all the food in the large pack and discovered that my back was still unhappy.
Jake and I divvied up the food at the pavilion, and I went off to a nearby town in search of bread and spiral notebooks. A convenience store near the town of Hamburg is only 1.5 miles away, but first you have to pass the dogs from hell. Large mutts, one white and one black, they live in the last house in Port Clinton as the Trail heads toward Hamburg. I thought they would be content to bark and look menacing, but the white one decided it was his turn to bite a thru-hiker. So, as I turned my back on them (a big mistake), Whitey nipped my thigh, I screamed and he ran off. The convenience store, as it happened, had no notebooks but plenty of factory-enriched fluffy-style bread. Real stores lay another 2 miles down the road, and it was getting late. I settled for their one loaf of whole wheat fluff bread and stuck out my thumb. So many cars and trucks whizzed by at 70 mph that I stopped trying. To my amazement, however, an 18-wheeler pulled over even when I wasn’t thumbing for a ride. A very pleasant older man at the wheel was interested to hear about the Trail and our hike and he dropped me off in Port Clinton. “Good luck to you and your son,” he said as I climbed down from the cab. (It took me a while to figure out where to put my feet – these rigs are tall – but he seemed to have plenty of time.)
So, now half the day was gone, what with the side trip to Hamburg and traipsing back and forth through town between the pavilion and the Post Office. Jake and I are constantly feeling the pressure to log some serious miles, and that’s hard to do on our once-a-week mail-drop days.
We left Port Clinton at lunchtime – in fact, we had lunch on the Post Office steps before leaving town – and then boogied. Our first challenge was a steep 1,000 foot climb back up to the top of the ridge overlooking the town. This was the steepest ascent we’ve seen in Pennsylvania. I popped the Rolling Stones into my Walkman and turned up the volume. Pretty soon we were at cruising altitude and just battling the persistent rocks that dot this otherwise flat section of Trail. I spent the afternoon trying to remember why my fatigue, my back pain, and my injured hand were not good enough reasons to stop hiking and go home. I found the answer in a passage I read this morning in Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.” “I have often noticed,” she writes, “that even a few minutes of self-forgetfulness is tremendously invigorating…Martin Buber quotes an old Hasid master who said ‘When you walk across the fields with your mind pure and holy, then from all the stones, and all growing things, and all animals, the sparks of their soul come out and cling to you, and then they are purified and become a holy fire in you.’” And so I walk on.
No entry yesterday because it was too cold to want to write. We woke up at the Allentown Shelter and it was cold. It must have taken me half an hour to get out of my sleeping bag. We decided to do 22 mi. to Port Clinton despite a rather late start. We stopped for lunch at Eckville Shelter, which was actually a shed in someone’s backyard and had cold drinks and ice cream sandwiches available. That was a neat place. Later we came to a spot called The Pinnacle, a rocky overlook with a nice view. What was remarkable about it, though, were the birds and the snakes. Evidently there were a lot of copperheads in residence. Blue Light Special saw a big one the day before we were there and we saw a smaller one, asleep. There were also tons of hawks flying around. They were all over the place, maybe as many as twenty, soaring around. Some came very close overhead. I took many pictures – I hope some of them come out well. It was a nice sunny spot, and we both would have liked to have taken a long break there but we had many more miles to walk and time was short.
The rest of the day was rather uneventful. We got to Port Clinton and slept in the Community Pavilion. Banjo Bill was there, as we suspected he would be. Also, to our surprise, Footprints was there! He came back from the hotel slightly inebriated and we chatted a little. Evidently he had spent a week in Hanover with the girl he met there, then spent two weeks in New York going to a couple job interviews, then went back to Hanover for a week, then had his girl drive him down to Connecticut. He said she wouldn’t take him to Kent, only to Hartford, because she was angry that he was messing around with her roommate. This morning we got our maildrop and Dad walked to Hamburg to get some bread. We did 13 miles to the Black Swatara Spring. The first half mile was very very steep. After that it was quite flat but I had a lot of trouble – my pack didn’t feel right. At last I realized it was severely unbalanced so I stopped and repacked it. It was amazing how much easier it was to hike with a balanced pack. We got to the Eagle’s Nest Shelter (which, BTW, was built off-site and airlifted in) and took a short break and revised our original plan to do 15 miles. The last few miles were a breeze.
September 8 ~ William Penn Shelter, PA at milepoint 998.4 south, 88 days since start of hike, averaging 11.3 miles per day
Trail data: Day 88 AT Miles hiked: 14.7 People we met on the Trail: 1 thruhiker (“Counting My Blessings”) 3 section-hikers People we camped with: AYCE, 3 weekenders Interesting flora/fauna: hawks, deer, and an unusual bloom of red berries that popped up from the ground on a thick stem with no leaves
Food seems to be a constant theme in this journal – perhaps in the journals of other thru-hikers too? Food, or rather the vision of food, snagged us today when we reached the 501 Shelter at 2 p.m. The 501 Shelter (so named because of its proximity to PA Route 501) is one of only 2 shelters on the AT where a hiker can call in an order for pizza and have it delivered. This novelty intrigued us, and so we called in our order. (The shelter’s caretakers live nearby and let hikers use their phone.) Unfortunately, we learned, the delivery driver doesn’t come to work until 4:30 p.m.
Dejectedly, we ate our PB&J’s and prepared to go. Jake was the first one of us to see the wisdom of sticking around for awhile. “I’m still hungry,” he said. I was an easy sell. The shelter has a hammock; I have a sore back. The two hours of R and R were delicious! As was the pizza, the arrival of which was announced by a truck honking out on Route 501. By the time we were finished with our early dinner, Jake and I both felt full. This, I have come to learn, is a novel feeling on the Trail. I certainly don’t get that feeling after eating any of the meager rations we carry for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In fact, Jake and I have both gotten pretty sick of what we carry, though we eat it all, to the last crumb.
At home, I always take food for granted. Thru-hikers, on the other hand, take food very seriously. It is the one thing, today at least, that stood in the way of doing some big miles. (Our 14.7 miles is not bad, not great – we were aiming for more.) We just knew that if we didn’t order some food at the 501 Shelter, our growling stomachs would be chiding us the rest of the day. When the stomach growls, it shifts the mind’s focus. When pizza is unavailable, the focus shifts to other things. I like the quote I saw recently from Gretel Ehrlich: “To know something, we must be scrubbed raw, the fasting heart exposed.” I feel scrubbed raw some days by our hunger. And then there are days like today when it feels good simply to succumb to that animal hunger that keeps us from going back to the Trail until we are full.
Jake and I are trying to heed the call of our bodies and not be too inflexible about our plans. We’ll probably do some bigger miles tomorrow, and we’ll probably feel better about them because we indulged a little today.
An interesting sight today: As I walked by a stand of trees near a sharp drop-off, a hawk flew out of one of the trees and glided out into the valley. “ Flew” is probably not the right word, because what was remarkable about the hawk’s flight was its soundless, seemingly weightless, drop from the tree limb to the air. It was as if an Olympic diver had stepped off the diving board, heading toward the water, but then gradually floated up into the sky and out over the grandstand – all without a discernable flap of the arms, or in the hawk’s case, wings. The memory of that hawk will be with me for a long time.
evening – William Penn Shelter
More rocks and more flat today. Passed a slow SoBo section hiker named Roamer, had a couple decent views. We stopped at the 501 shelter for lunch, and although there was a phone and we could get a pizza delivered, the delivery guy didn’t come until 4:30. It was then 2:30. After much agony and indecision we decided to wait. I’m very glad. The pizza was a great change from trailfood, and I got to try eggplant fries. That changed the ~17 mile day we had planned to a ~15 miles day, but I’m happy. I even have a couple of leftover pieces of pizza for breakfast or lunch. When we got to this shelter I finally met AYCE, who is a very cool guy. There were also a few weekenders out for their first overnight. They received quite a few go-lite tips from AYCE, whose pack weighs 8.5 lbs. w/o food or water.
September 9 ~ Campsite near Horseshoe Trail, PA at milepoint 1018.9 south, 89 days since start of hike, averaging 11.4 miles per day
Trail data – Day 89 AT miles hiked today: 20.5 People we met on the Trail: 20 or so weekend hikers 6 cyclists on rail-trail path People we camped with: just us Interesting flora/fauna: 2 grouse, 2 deer, and some mushrooms that look like miniature versions of the Disney Expo building
Jake and I crossed the 1,000-mile line this morning. There was no fanfare. The Trail is not marked in any way at the 1,000-mile point for SoBo’s (or for NoBo’ s, so far as I know – but we’re not there yet). Our internal odometers, however, know that we’ve done a lot of miles, and that we have even more yet to do. The half-way point on the Trail is about 65 miles south of here.
How are we feeling after 1,000 miles? In a word, sore. For me, it’s aching muscles, sore back, injured hand, and slightly wobbly knees. For Jake, I think it’s mostly his feet. How are we doing in other departments – e.g. mentally? I think we’re doing well. Our spirits remain high. We have no regrets about doing the hike – on the contrary, we’re both counting our blessings that life has led us to the Trail. (Of course, some might question how we’re doing mentally solely on the evidence that we’re out here in the first place!)
Having hiked Pennsylvania for a week and a half, I realize I haven’t said much about what the Trail actually looks like, how it feels. The woods along the Trail in Pennsylvania – at least the first nine days of it – are mature hardwoods. There are few evergreens, and the oaks, maples, ash, sycamore, sassafras and poplars are spread out a bit. Some of the oaks tower above us. Growing at the 2-3 foot level, the underbrush is dominated by mountain laurel, sumac, blueberry, scrub oak, and several varieties of brambles that I haven’t yet identified. Occasionally the Trail gets very narrow because of high grass growing aggressively to obliterate the Trail. We can look out into these mostly open woods occasionally, but we have to watch our step. The grass sometimes obscures the Trail, and I am on the lookout for snakes. Also, the rockiness of the Trail continues to be a problem, but less so as we move South through this notoriously rocky state. The Trail follows a remarkably straight, remarkably even ridgeline at about 1,500 feet. Sometimes that path was blazed long ago by wagons, and therefore we alternate between pleasant strolls on dirt road, some of it smooth and some rocky and merciless ledge that requires a good deal of boulder hopping.
These rock ledges are ideal habitats for snakes. Flat boulders piled on top of other flat boulders usually leave horizontal crevices that the copperheads and rattlers breed in and hunt from. And every time the Trail takes me past one of these habitats (easily a dozen times each day here in PA), I hold my breath and scurry by. We’ve seen more references to snakes in the Pennsylvania Trail registers than anywhere else. And one of the encouraging letters I received from colleagues before Jake and I began our hike was from a lawyer who told me about the den of copperheads he encountered as a youth on the Trail in Pennsylvania. I have been thinking about that letter ever since we crossed the Delaware River.
One of the things that’s different about the Trail here, as compared with New England, is that the woods feel settled. The nearly impenetrable granite of Maine and New Hampshire leads the trees to send root systems out in a wide but shallow pattern that causes abundant blow-downs. As a result, the woods there have a precarious feeling, with many trees down and even more leaning at odd angles, only a few years from collapse. These, of course, are broad generalizations, and the changes from one Eco-system to another are subtle. But even to my very uneducated eye, there are big changes in the woods as we have moved south.
Tonight we are tenting in a sweet little campsite Jake found along the Trail. Our tents are tightly nestled in a grove of mountain laurel, and a small stream ripples over the rocks nearby. Our twenty miles of hiking brought us here as night fell, and so I had to break out my head lamp to finish cooking our shells and cheese. Jake hauled our food bags up about 15 feet in a tree – higher than usual because of our concern about bears. And then we turned in for the night. Our clothes are sweat-soaked and smell horrible, our bodies are suffering their now-customary maladies, but as I duck under the laurel and into my tent, all seems right with the world.
Got off to yet another late start toady. The loft design of the Wm. Penn shelter made it easy to sleep late, plus it’s been getting light later. I left slightly before AYCE but ran into him several times during the day. Each time we meet he’s been asking me for another riddle, which is very gratifying. He seems to genuinely enjoy them. It was pretty easy hiking again today, but I felt very tired. I stopped at Rausch Gap Shelter for water and stayed awhile, and Dad caught up. It was 4:00 and we had 8 miles left, so we really had to boogie. I tried putting away my walking stick since the ground was so flat, and that helped. I managed to go pretty fast the rest of the way. Fortunately we found a campsite right around where we’d planned to stop, at 20 miles.
September 10 ~ Duncannon, PA at milepoint 1040.5 south, 90 days since start of hike, averaging 11.6 miles per day
Trail data – Day 90 AT miles hiked today: 21.6 People we met on the Trail: - 7 day hikers - 0 Thru-hikers People we stayed with: just us Interesting sights: the Susquehanna River at sunset
For Jake and me this was our second consecutive day of hiking 20+ miles. I don’ t think we’ve done that before. We wanted to get to Duncannon to get our mail drop and the Trail goes right through the center of town. The traditional place for hikers to stay is the 100-year old Doyle Hotel, where the rooms are none too fancy but it’s only $10 per night. Jake and I decided against the Doyle, however, because the Trail registers were filled with disparaging comments about it: “worse than a Newark welfare hotel,” said one hiker who evidently has seen both. One hiker told us that there are no showers at the Doyle, only a couple of bathtubs, and neither one terribly inviting. “It’s a flophouse,” she said, “with actual bugs.” So Jake and I wound up at Molly’s Star Dust Motel: a little pricier than the Doyle but you get your very own bathroom and shower.
Molly’s Star Dust Motel is located on U.S. 15, a busy truck route, so you get the flavor of rust belt America passing by your door at about 70 mph all night. Directly across the highway is what appears to be an above-ground graveyard for terminally injured mobile homes. I couldn’t figure out how these fractured remains of house trailers had been transported to their final resting place, and Molly is none too happy about it.
Before arriving here this evening, Jake and I got a great view of Duncannon from the high ridge north of town. The setting sun had turned the wide Susquehanna River pink. The town, on the far bank, looked peaceful, orderly, and pious with a couple of church steeples rising above the homes. A train of what seemed like hundreds of box cars clanked its way along the river bank.
Despite the abundance of water below, the ridge remained dry. At the shelter where Jake and I had lunch (Peters Mountain Shelter) the only spring was a 15 – 20 minute walk down a steep embankment. Jake and I drew lots and I lost. The elevation drop to the spring was 400’ – that’s like going down and up a 40-story building for a couple liters of water. Sometimes the water from these springs is a little “sketchy.” For example, a couple of days ago, I was about to drink some spring water from my bottle and saw an animal hair or whisker of some kind floating on top. I plucked it out, disinfected the water with iodine, and drank it. I’ve grown accustomed to the fact that we aren’t the only critters who drink at these watering holes. I’ve also learned to ignore the little bits of leaves that are unavoidable. This sort of thing would have bothered me a good deal before the hike.
One thing that continues to bother me on the Trail is spider webs. For some reason, the spiders are hyper-active in this part of PA. (Is it because we are close to Three Mile Island?) Their webs are everywhere. My face and hat get plastered with them, even if other hikers have recently walked the Trail ahead of me. Perhaps this is their autumnal behavior, or maybe they are actually trying to ensnare a hiker or two. The evidence of fall is everywhere on the Trail. The path is strewn with fallen leaves and, in one spot, so many fallen acorns that I almost lost my footing. (It was like one of those slapstick comedy routines where a guy suddenly finds himself in a room with nothing but ball bearings on the floor.)
I’ve enjoyed watching seasons pass on the Trail. I recall the late spring we experienced in Maine. Did we have summer this year? All I can recall was lovely weather in Maine, then the season of mud, and now autumn. Perhaps there were a couple of sweltering August weeks in there somewhere.
But tonight we are in the air conditioned comfort of Molly’s Star Dust Motel, where the climate is always the same, and where even the roar of passing trucks won’t keep us from sleeping.
Today was rough. 21.6 miles and I had some trouble with my feet and legs.
We started out early so we could take it easy – got up at 6:00. Last night we had a bit of trouble when we hung our food. After pulling down the free end to lift the food bags and tying it to a tree, we found it was slack – the bags were stuck up in the tree! We decided to deal with it in the morning.
Anyways this morning after getting up I tried to get the food down. Shaking the line was no use. Evidently the friction of pulling up the bags had dug a slight groove in the tree, which was now grasping the line. Finally I despaired, and tried climbing the tree, even though it had no low branches. I failed miserably. After a second attempt, with boots on, I temporarily gave up. As I was packing up the rest of my gear, an idea struck me. I took one of my tent poles and removed from the tent one of the things it attaches to. These are shaped like a letter “v” and go into the ends of the poles. I threaded the loose end of the rope through the hole and lifted the pole. Thus I was able to lift the rope out of its groove and everything came sliding down.
Despite that minor victory, the rest of the day stunk as I have said before. We took a long break at the halfway point, which was very nice but not enough to overcome the rest of the day. As I came to the road, it was dark. Right before the road there was an active railroad, and a train was just pulling past as I got there. It was the first time I’ve had to wait for a train to pass on the trail, for what that’s worth. There was a very busy bridge across the Susquehanna which I crossed on the wrong side. I had some trouble finding the motel where I was supposed to meet Dad – there was a truck stop, but no motel in evidence. After some time and too much walking I found it, and Dad. We had some dinner and made some calls. The motel turned out to be full, so we went to the Stardust – the owner gave us a ride. The accommodations here are nice, although the shower has very little water pressure.
September 11 ~ Thelma Marks Memorial Shelter at milepoint 1044.6 south, 91 days since start of hike, averaging 11.5 miles per day
Trail data – Day 91 At miles hiked today: 4.1 People we met on the Trail: 0 People we camped with: the Kid Interesting critters: more deer, a large white bird (perhaps a snowy owl) cruising just over the tree tops
Staying at this campsite feels more than just a little creepy. Ten years ago this week there was a double homicide here, in the structure next to this one. It’s a tiny, dark log lean-to, built by Earl Shaffer, the first person to thru-hike the AT. It’s named after a woman who was active in the local trail club. No one around here remembers Thelma Marks. But they vividly recall the murder of Geoff Hood and Molly LaRue, a 20–something couple who were in the middle of a southbound thru-hike in September 1990. Molly was evidently raped before she was stabbed to death. Geoff was killed with a handgun. The killer, Paul David Crews, is now on death row.
The log lean-to will be torn down two weeks from now because it’s been replaced by the newer shelter that Jake and I are sleeping in. The old shelter has some historic value but the memory of the murders is still so painful that the Appalachian Trial Conference has agreed that it should be dismantled.
I am feeling sad tonight about these two slain thru-hikers and their families. I am also trying to imagine what it was like for the two southbound thru-hikers (also a 20–something couple) who discovered the bodies. They ran – with their packs still on – 4 miles back to Duncannon and called the police. Within half a day, the hiker community had mobilized and provided the investigators with a profile of the killer. He was heading south on the AT, pretending to be a thru-hiker. He was carrying Geoff’s backpack and wearing Geoff’s hiking boots, but other hikers could tell that there was something wrong with this guy. He didn’t know the lingo of the Trail; he didn’t look or act like a hiker. The police, with the help of people on the Trail, tracked him along the AT to West Virginia; he was captured on the railroad bridge where the AT crosses the Potomac River. Police moved in from each end of the bridge. (Jake and I will be crossing that bridge in about a week.)
Some trees were planted here, near the shelter, as a memorial to Geoff and Molly, but there is no plague or sign. I would like to see the ATC post a notice or erect a memorial of some kind, to honor the memory of these fellow hikers. It would serve as a reminder that we need to be careful out here.
By the sheerest coincidence, I met the killer’s lawyer earlier today. I was walking down the main street of Duncannon (like Port Clinton, it has only two) and I was feeling frustrated because there is no town library and therefore no public internet access. I wanted to get information about a lightweight tarp to replace my tent. On a whim, I stopped at a law office, thinking that a fellow lawyer, as a courtesy, might let me use his or her computer. It turned out I was right – Jerry Philpott, Esq., invited me up to his office and we found a web site where I could order the tarp. When I asked him about the hikers who were killed near Duncannon, I was astonished to learn that Jerry had defended Crews. Apparently Crews was also wanted for murder in Florida and chose extradition from West Virginia to Pennsylvania because he thought he was less likely to be executed here. His fate now turns on the Governor’s race this fall: one of the candidates favors capital punishment, the other doesn’t.
Other creepy things happened today. I walked into the men’s room at the truck stop in Duncannon and found the most shocking graffiti I’ve seen in a long while. A swastika had been drawn on the toilet seat and more swastikas on the walls of the stalls. Horrible misogynistic descriptions of violent sexual acts with women were also scrawled there, along with dire warnings about how the U.S. “has already been lost to the Communists.” Is this stuff all over the place and I’ve just been leading a sheltered life?
I also saw, on the way into Duncannon, an FBI “wanted” poster with a picture of Eric Robert Rudolph. Rudolph is accused of bombing an abortion clinic in Alabama, and he was reported to be hiding in the Appalachian Mountains. This poster, however, was the first warning about Rudolph that I’ve seen on the AT.
Finally, Jake and I stopped at the Doyle Hotel to meet some hikers and get a late lunch. The food and company were great, but there were a bunch of drunks at the bar and at the tables next to us who were really scary. Their loud, vulgar bickering would have been merely annoying but for the fact that they seemed ready to start a brawl and Jake and I were close at hand. I thought a chair was about to come flying in our direction. The owner/bartender threatened to cancel their privileges, and they could tell she meant it – they quieted down. But it was a sad class of folks gathered in that barroom, and I was glad to finish lunch and get out of town.
Before we left, however, we visited a hiker friend, John the Baptist, who was staying on the top floor of the Doyle. I wanted to see what the rooms looked like. They were about what you’d expect from the price: $10 /night. The furniture was old, the walls were dirty, and you’d think twice before using the bathroom down the hall.
I felt like I entered a completely different world when I climbed the steep hill on the Trail leading from Duncannon up to this shelter. There’s a lookout called Hawk Rock at the top of the ridge, jutting out into thin air and commanding a broad view of Duncannon and the Susquehanna. From that height and more than a mile away, the town looked calm, dignified, orderly; the gritty, rust-belt manginess of the Doyle and the town square it dominates are lost in the distance. The green, rolling, forested hills flow down to the creek, which winds its way to the river, and a white bird flies just over the tree-tops, from one side of the valley to the Susquehanna. From Hawk Rock, I try to forget about murders and graffiti, and look at the world below with the same combination of interest and detachment that the white bird feels.
I still felt horrible when I got up this morning – tired, and sore. And it was raining. We got a ride to the truck stop so we could hike the remaining mile into Duncannon. Thankfully it stopped raining before we left the truck stop. On the way into town we ran into Blue Light Special and talked to him for a while. We did some errands and stopped at the Doyle to see BLS and John the Baptist and Fairweather John was in his room, but BLS and Fairweather were hanging out in the tavern, as well as two other SoBos we haven’t met before, Crazy Joe and The Kid. We hung out for a while and had lunch. There were a couple belligerent guys who kept shouting at each other and seemed on the verge of a fight. The bartender started shouting at both of them to shut up and drink their beers, and said “If I wasn’t pregnant, I’d come back there and smack you both around.”
Evening – Thelma Marks Memorial Shelter
I had a good time chatting with John and Blue Light Special, then left town. I took it very slow for the 4 miles to the shelter in order to avoid hurting myself further. The terrain was still rocky but not too bad. “The Kid” and Dad were here when I arrived. It’s a nice shelter – evidently built as a memorial to a woman who was killed here (in the old shelter) in the early 90’s. Hope it’ s not haunted.
September 12 ~ Boiling Springs, PA at milepoint 1066.2 south, 92 days since start of hike, averaging 11.6 miles per day
Trail data – Day 92 AT miles hiked: 21.6 People we met on the Trail: 1 Section hiker 1 Day hiker 0 Thru-hikers Interesting creatures: White heron wading in a creek; a large black bird that looked like a turkey vulture (4-foot wingspan)
Jake and I hiked out from the Thelma Marks Shelter into a drizzling rain this morning and managed the nearly 22 miles into Boiling Springs. The town is named for a rapidly churning spring; it’s not even warm, much less boiling. We wanted to log some serious miles today because yesterday was only a 4-mile day. I also wanted to get here because there’s a hospital in nearby Carlisle, PA.
The purpose of my visit to the hospital was to get an x-ray of my injured right hand, which is still quite tender after I took a fall six days ago. The hypochondriac in me got the upper hand two days ago and I had called my uncle, a physician, and described the symptoms. He said there was a good chance that I had a hair-line fracture and therefore should have it x-rayed.
I chose the Carlisle Hospital because it’s very close to the Trail, and my hand still works well enough that I can hike. The folks at the Hospital seemed to know nothing about the Trail and seemed a little skeptical when I said that I had walked all the way from Maine. “You didn’t take the bus even part of the way,” the foreign-born doctor asked? He arranged for x-rays and said that my hand was sprained, not broken. That was a good result, I thought. It explains the pain, and the hypochondriac in me is not too embarrassed about going to a hospital. Meanwhile the other side of me is relieved I don’t have to bundle up my hand in a cast or splint. We can keep on hiking.
Jake and I are staying this evening at the home of a wonderful Trail angel who goes by the name Mother Hen. She picked us up at the ATC office in Boiling Springs, where the Trail passes through town, and her fiance took me to the hospital. Meanwhile Jake and two other hikers who are staying here (Banjo Bill and 5th Wheel) ordered pizza.
Mother Hen has been inviting thru-hikers to stay at her house for five-years, and more than a thousand have accepted the invitation. She has been described in the local press as the Mother Theresa of the Trail because she has helped hikers in so many ways. She asks for a $5 donation if you can afford it. That helps with the cost of groceries, because she likes to feed the hikers too.
Jake and I were astonished to see how many challenges Mother Hen is managing all at once. She is a single mother with three children, ages 7, 13, and 15. Her 7-year-old is in a wheelchair because of a rare vascular disease that deformed his lower body and internal organs. She is about to get married – the wedding is only a month away. And, she is in the middle of trying to sell her ranch house, which sits next to a golf course, and buy another house where everything is on one level and the yard isn’t bombarded by wayward hook shots.
Under the circumstances, she would certainly not lose her sainthood status if she stopped hosting hikers for a few weeks. But she took us all in with a smile. Her guest book lists a few “rules”; here are some excerpts: 1. During your stay consider us home. 2. Wet towels on a clothesline. 5. Send a card from the top – no exceptions. 6. Give as you receive as you walk life’s trails. 7. Stay as long as you like or need. 8. Don’t thank me – thank God, from whom all this flows. Your prayerful thanks keeps the magic flowing.
Mother Hen, you are a remarkable woman. I know I’m breaking Rule 8, but thank you!
Perhaps I should say a little something about our hike today, which took us through farm country in PA’s Cumberland Valley. We hiked along the edge of fields of corn, soy beans and potatoes. We crossed just-mowed hay fields studded with enormous bales of straw – eight-foot-long rectangles and rolls that only a truck could lift. We crossed pastures – in one of them a herd of about 50 cows all stopped what they were doing and stared at me. (I was surprised at how self-conscious I felt even though they were just cows.) In another pasture the cows were lumbering their way toward the milking barn with grotesquely distended udders. I later learned that this painful-looking condition comes from the use of certain hormones that increase milk production – hormones that Ben & Jerry’s (and others) are boycotting.
Jake and I also met a northbound section-hiker (“Citizen”) with the strangest hiking pole I have ever seen. It was a wooden staff, with carved decorations and two bottle holders fastened to it: one for a water bottle and the other for a small bottle of pepper spray. “That’s for bears,” he said. I asked him about the removable tip of the pole. He lifted it and revealed a 3 – 4 inch knife blade protruding from the top. “Is that for dogs?" I asked. “Bears?” No, said Citizen, a bear would only be annoyed by a blade that size and dogs usually go away if you stand your ground. So, I asked, is it for people? “I guess so,” he said. Well, I thought, that’s a real conversation stopper. I decided that it was time to get going, and I looked over my shoulder a couple of times as I saw Citizen fading into the distance.
One other Trail note: Walking through this broad valley, we crossed 15 paved roads today – a record, so far. Some of these roads were just local thoroughfares, but we also crossed the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I-81, and US-11, where we heard honking horns for the first time since we left Boston. The Trail cuts through an interesting cross-section of this part of Pennsylvania, where we see smoke-belching tractor-trailers barreling along at 70 mph one minute and gorgeous, quiet creeks with white herons the next.
Dad woke me up this morning as he was leaving to do 22 miles to Boiling Springs. I decided I was not about to do 22 miles in the rain and tried to sleep. I couldn’t, and soon got up. When I saw on the map that the next shelter, was only 7 miles and after that there was nothing till Boiling Springs, I decided to go for the whole 22 miles. It wasn’t too bad. My feet were feeling a little better and there was a lot of flat trail.
We passed a lot of farms today, which was rather neat. Tonight we’re staying at the home of Mother Hen, a trail angel here who lets hikers stay at her house. She seems to have had a rough day – she and her fiancee had a contract on a house they planned to buy, and were working on selling their current home when someone else bought the one they planned to move into. Then her seven year old, who had his heart set on the new house, called the real estate agency and made some death-threats, so the police called to find out what was going on. It turned out all right, but it sounded stressful.
September 13 ~ Campsite near Limekiln Rd., PA at milepoint 1081.4 south, 93 days since start of hike, averaging 11.6 miles per day
Trail data – Day 93 AT miles hiked: 15.2 People we met on the Trail: -2 day hikers People we camped with: just us Interesting critters: fox in a corn field
It was three months ago today that Jake and I climbed Mt. Katahdin and started this hike. The time has flown by. Jake and I have settled into a routine that now seems easy, familiar, comfortable. Today – a beautiful hiking day, weatherwise – we leap-frogged past each other a few times. I usually try to get a head-start so that Jake doesn’t have to wait too long for me at the end of the day. We hiked through fields and pastures for an hour or so – it was exciting to see a fox brazenly crossing a meadow in a corn field. Then the Trail plunged into the green tunnel of woods which has been typical of Pennsylvania.
One section of the Trail today was dominated by huge boulders; the blazes directed us through a maze-like path that was both challenging and fun. A couple of passages were just barely big enough to wiggle through with a pack. Jake saw a good-sized snake under one of the boulders.
Toward evening I was ahead of Jake and therefore I got to pick our tent site for the evening. The Trail in Pennsylvania is dotted with primitive campsites – primitive in the sense that there is no water source or privy, just a clearing and a stone fire ring. When we reached the 15-mile point today, however, and darkness was closing in, I couldn’t find even a primitive campsite, so I settled for a flat spot in the woods. We set up our tents, cooked our rice and beans, and we were curled up in sleeping bags by 9 p.m. Jake and I are wrestling with a tough issue right now: whether we will be able to stay together through the rest of the hike. I need to maintain a certain pace (about 15 miles per day) to finish before my sabbatical ends. That number allows for a couple of “zero” days that we are about to take in Baltimore for a family event, and two more “zero” days as needed. To finish by Thanksgiving, which we would like to celebrate with our family, the number goes up to 17. Meanwhile, we have passed many (in fact, most) of our southbound friends on the Trail, and we miss them. Jake would like to hike with a somewhat looser schedule – he doesn’t need to be back until January, and that’s the schedule that most of the other SoBo’s are on. And yet both of us are reluctant to part company and hike separately. This has been a joint project from the start, and we both want to finish it together. This is a discussion that Jake and I have just begun and will continue over the next few days after Baltimore.
A miscellaneous Trail note: the trees were bombarding us today with acorns. This seems to be the moment when the oaks are letting go, and the acorns in these woods are jumbo size. Ordinarily, when we hear a crash, snap, crunch, or thunk in the woods, it’s an interesting creature of some kind. Today, 99 times out of a 100, it was an acorn, a cluster of acorns, or occasionally a black walnut.
Boiling Springs, by the way, was a lovely stop-over town. There’s a tree-lined mill pond in the center of town with an abundance (the town would say an overabundance) of geese and ducks. Children, along with their parents or grandparents strolled the perimeter feeding the birds. Thus, the children begin to form a connection with wildlife, while at the same time their caring creates an overpopulation that damages the pond.
Tomorrow we will reach the half-way marker on the Trail, and then look for a half-gallon of ice cream to eat, which is the traditional method of celebrating this event. (It’s called the “Half-Gallon Challenge.”) I don’t know if I can eat that much ice cream. I am not sure I want to try. But I believe in tradition, so we’ll see.
We woke up late, and Mother Hen kindly cooked us a breakfast of biscuits, fried potatoes, and – veggie bacon! Transportation was complex and we got back to the trail around 11. Dad wanted to hang around and call Mom when she became available. We left town around noon (the trail goes right through town and we were hanging out at the ATC regional office, which is on the trail.) Not much happened other than hiking. A couple women struck up a conversation when I walked past in town. They were landscapers and socialists, though they had recently re-registered as Democrats to make sure Bradley didn’t win the primary. They talked a lot of politics and told me all the latest news of the elections. They even gave me a newspaper so I could read what they were talking about. They were pretty cool. Tonight we’re camped in some random place 3 miles past Tagg Run shelters.
September 14 ~ Birch Run Shelters at milepoint 1095.6 south, 94 days since start of hike, averaging 11.7 miles per day
Trail data: 93 AT miles hiked: 14.2 People we camped with: Banjo Bill, 5th Wheel People we saw on the Trail: 1 Section hiker (“Square Peg”) 1 Former thru-hiker (“Sugarfoot” ’93) 4 Day hikers 7 Mountain bikers
Today was a big day for Jake and me – we crossed the half-way point on the Trail. There were two markers about a mile from each other. The first was an unofficial (but accurate) hand-lettered sign stapled to a tree, informing us that 1,083.55 miles of Trail were behind us, and the same distance lay ahead. The second, “official” sign (now outdated) declared that 1,069 miles of Trail lay in each direction. The new, longer mileage is due to Trail relocations. We took a picture of ourselves at both spots by strapping our camera to a tree.
Jake and I were wondering what to do about the half-gallon of ice cream we were each supposed to eat (the thru-hiker’s traditional “Half Gallon Challenge”). The store at Pine Grove Furnace State Park, which sells over-priced half-gallons and gives thru-hikers a small wooden spoon (branded with the words “Half Gallon Club”) if you eat the whole thing, was closed.
As luck would have it, however, we were passing a closed park concession, just as the proprietor was cleaning out the kitchen for the season. She saw us sitting at a picnic table with our packs and asked if we’d like some ice cream. Astonished at yet another instance of timely Trail magic, we gratefully said, “ YES, you bet.” She piled four large tubs of premium ice cream on the picnic table – black raspberry, chocolate chip cookie dough (2 tubs), and peanut butter ripple. These tubs weren’t full, but they were full enough. We had about 4 – 5 gallons of ice cream to contend with. Fortunately, two more thru-hikers passed by and helped us out. We invited other folks in the park to join us. We still couldn’t finish all the ice cream. Did we eat a half-gallon? Jake probably did, and then some. I stopped just this side of feeling ill, probably a pint short of the goal. That’s OK by me.
Half-way down the Trail seems like a good place to take stock of what’s been great and not-so-great about this thru-hike so far. In the latter category: a sprained hand, a bruised rib, back aches, knee pain, turned ankles, a gouged elbow, two weeks of rain in Vermont and Massachusetts, getting bitten by a dog and attacked by a goshawk, a close encounter with a rattlesnake, getting swarmed by mosquitoes in NJ and black flies in Maine, and hiking through hail on Mt. Washington. And last but not least, missing my family.
On the plus side: sharing the hike with Jacob; meeting a moose on a mountaintop in NH; picking blueberries in MA; watching the sunset turn the sky five shades of crimson over a pond in Maine; looking out over a huge slice of gorgeous scenery from the top of Chairback Mountain; hiking across craggy, sinewy Franconia Ridge in NH; meeting some extraordinary people (e.g., a Buddhist lawyer and a thru-hiker who gets much of his food from edible plants); feeling healthier; getting to know the woods better; and getting to know myself better.
So far, the pluses outweigh the minuses by a lot.
We finished the day with a campfire at a very cozy shelter on a grassy hill that rolls down to a brook. Heavy rain is predicted to start around midnight. It came early, however, dousing our fire and pounding the tin roof of our tiny log shelter. Flashes of lightning illuminated the woods down the hill from out shelter. Jake and I are enjoying riding out this rip-roaring thunderstorm in what feels like a safe hidey-hole.
Today we passed a couple of halfway markers – one nailed to a tree, written on a piece of paper. It supposedly marked the exact halfway point for 2000, at 1083.55 miles from either end. The other was a more “official” wooden structure erected in ’87 that said 1069 miles either way. It was pretty neat but I don’t have any strong feelings about being halfway. Maybe I just haven’t thought about it enough.
Yesterday I got a big disappointment when Dad told me the place where you get the ½ gallon for the ½ gallon challenge was only open on weekends after Labor Day, so we’d have to do our ½ gal. elsewhere. However, when we got to Pine Grove Furnace State Park, we stopped for a short break. While we sat a woman came out of the nearby concession and asked, “Would you like some free ice cream?” Evidently she was closing down the concession for the summer and was going to have to throw away all the ice cream. She brought out 4 huge 3-gallon tubs of ice cream; Blackberry, Peanut Butter Ripple, and 2 chocolate Chip Cookie Dough. They were all about 1/6 full, except the 2nd Cookie Dough, which was about ¾ full. I ate a lot, but couldn’t tell when I’d eaten a half gallon. I stopped when I started to feel sick at the thought of another bite, so I probably didn’t eat a full half gallon. The fact that now, less than 10 hours later, the thought of cookie dough ice cream is making me salivate is also probably an indicator that I fell short. I will try again in Baltimore.
While we were eating Banjo Bill and 5th Wheel showed up. They had just done the ½ gal. yesterday, but Banjo downed a respectable portion of the cookie dough. 5th Wheel ate very little, opting instead for a PB&J for lunch. We headed on, doing around 13 miles total. We passed a bunch of mountain bikers on the trail despite the fact that they were forbidden.
A while after we got to the shelter, a tremendous thunderstorm came through. We were glad to be secure and dry in the shelter.
September 15 ~ South Mountain, PA at milepoint 1110.3 south, 95 days since start of hike, averaging 11.7 miles per day
Trail data – Day 94 AT miles hiked: 14.7 Hikers we saw on the Trail: Banjo Bill, 5th Wheel People we stayed with: Beth and Lily
The most challenging thing that Jake and I did today was not the hiking. It was arranging our rendezvous with Beth and Lily. The hiking involved a good deal of up-and-down – more climbing than we’ve done here in Pennsylvania for a while. But the 1,000 foot climb this morning was gradual and the Trail is well-maintained by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, one of the country’s oldest hiking clubs. We crossed some boulders at the top of a ridge, but the view was limited to just another tree-covered ridge. However, the weather was crisp – ideal for hiking. It felt like fall, in fact a bit too much like fall, since we have more than two months of hiking ahead of us and an extended summer would have been very welcome.
With the combination of good weather and easy footing most of the way on the Trail, I only fell once and finished our almost 15 miles in record time – shortly after 3 p.m.
Jake and I met at the South Mountain Post Office, which is 1.2 miles off the Trail. I had no luck hitching. I discovered, as I walked along, that there are three correctional facilities in the South Mountain area – one of them is maximum security. If I were driving through an area like that, I might be a little slow to pick up someone who looks as disheveled as I do.
After getting our mail and an early dinner at a convenience store with a grill, Jake and I hit the road again. Our plan was to hitchhike to Gettysburg or York, PA and find a motel where Beth and Lily could meet us. We needed to find our roost for the night by 9:30 p.m., when their plane landed, so we could leave a message on Beth’s voice mail.
Our first ride was easy – a guy who saw us at the convenience store. But he dropped us off on a narrow stretch of two-lane road. We hiked for a couple of miles with cars whizzing just inches past our outstretched thumbs. We finally reached busy US-30, which goes through Gettysburg (15 miles down the road) and York (30 miles further). We waited almost an hour for a ride. At one point we got so bored and frustrated with the process, Jake and I tried a little bit of syncopated line-dancing, waving our thumbs out into the road to the tune of “ Stayin’ Alive.” Needless to say that didn’t work.
Eventually a car pulled over. It was a woman travelling by herself – exactly the sort of person who never stops for 2 bedraggled-looking guys. But we had backpacks, we were near the AT, and she was pretty sure we were hikers. She said this is only the second time in her life that she had stopped to give someone a ride (the previous time was also an Appalachian Trail hiker). She took us all the way to York and stopped at a couple of motels until we found rooms at the Holiday Inn. This was a ride worth waiting for. We enjoyed the company, and she made it easy for us to connect with Beth and Lily. Thank you, Stephanie, our Trail angel of the day.
Beth and Lily arrived at a little before midnight. And we had a great time catching up, even at that late hour. The logistics worked. Life is good.
A nice easy day of hiking today. Not much happened. I saw a very small snake lying on the trail, apparently injured. It wasn’t moving much. I also saw a very large green bug on the trail. It looked amazingly like a pair of leaves and would have been very well-camouflaged if it were sitting in a tree rather than on the trail.
We got to South Mountain with plenty of time to get our maildrop, and had a lunch of v.bad pizza, onion rings, and fish ‘n’ chips. Banjo Bill showed up too.
The hitching was bad on Rt. 232 so we walked and hitched a little to Rt. 30 and hitched from there. It took a while and was looking rather hopeless when a youngish (30 yrs) woman pulled over. She took us all the way to York and even drove around to motels a little. She was quite cool. She told us the only 2 times she’d picked up hitchhikers – including this time – were from the trail. We had a lot of time to talk since she took us a long way, and she told us how she was planning to go to India for 3 weeks as a celebration of her 30th birthday, and all about her job at a local college.
The hotel is nice. It was great to see Mom and Lily again. They were both excited to see us too, although Lily was exhausted.
September 16 ~ South Mountain, PA at milepoint 1110.3 south, 96 days since start of hike, averaging 11.6 miles per day
David's entry Trail Data: Day 95 AT miles hiked: 0
Today was a family day, not a hiking day. Jake, Lily, Beth and I visited Amish country in the morning. An elder of the Amish church took us on a buggy ride out to a couple of his neighbors’ farms, and we watched a film about Amish life. Later, Jake got some new boots at EMS, and at the end of the day we met my daughter Jessica and her husband J.P. for dinner in Baltimore. (The vegetarian One World Cafe is my favorite spot in Baltimore, where I grew up.) A great day – very “chill” (to use the parlance of the Trail). I think that means very relaxing.
September 17 ~ South Mountain, PA at milepoint 1110.3 south, 97 days since start of hike, averaging 11.4 miles per day
David's entry: Trail data: Day 96 AT miles hiked: 0
Today was another family day in Baltimore – starting with brunch with relatives from Israel, New York, Boston, and Baltimore. And then a party this evening at which my father and step-mother introduced their friends to the newlyweds in the family: my daughter and son-in-law and my niece and her husband. Jake and I dressed up with clothes brought down to Baltimore for the occasion by Beth and Lily. We felt a little bit out of character wearing ties, but it was a great party (it’s hard to find good crab cakes and potato latkes on the Trail). Tomorrow we go back to hiking, refreshed, well fed, and eager for the woods.
September 18 ~ Mason-Dixon Line, PA at milepoint 1123.5 south, 98 days since start of hike, averaging 11.5 miles per day
Trail data: Day 97 AT miles hiked: 13.2 People we camped with: just us People I saw on the Trail: 2 day hikers
This morning before leaving the Quality Inn in Baltimore, I checked the weather forecast. Good weather was predicted for the next few days. I was concerned about the weather because I was thinking about trying the “Maryland Challenge” – hiking the 40 miles from the Mason-Dixon line, across Maryland, and into Harper’s Ferry, WV, in one day. I have never hiked that far in one day, and I decided I could only manage it if I stripped my pack down to the barest essentials. I planned to mail my tent, my few extra clothes, and a few other items to Harper’s Ferry – but only if the weather was likely to be good because there is no shelter on the Mason-Dixon line.
Jake and I got a ride to South Mountain (courtesy of my Dad) and I packed my extra gear into a box at the Post Office. Once I was out on the Trail, however, the weather forecast changed. By the end of the day, meteorologists were estimating a 70% chance of rain tonight and 80% for tomorrow. Oh well, I like challenges.
The Trail was all green-tunnel today – a fitting way to conclude our 230-mile hike through Pennsylvania, which has been mostly a green-tunnel experience. It’ s not the state I would recommend if you could only hike one part of the trail.
When I arrived at the Mason-Dixon line marker this evening, Jake was already there. We discussed the Maryland Challenge, which Jake has been considering for a few days. We decided to wake up at midnight and give it a try, unless the weather was outrageously bad.
I tried to fasten the rain-fly of my tent to four trees to create a tiny shelter. This was one of the few items left in my pack (along with a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, rain gear, fleece vest, and a pack cover). It took me four tries, using various combinations of string and hiking poles, but eventually I got the rain-fly set up in a complex arrangement that Rube Goldberg would have loved. I was able to sleep in only 30-minute intervals because I was nervous about over-sleeping (I have no alarm) and because every time I rolled over I bumped into a hiking pole. Strange as it may seem, though, I was actually looking forward to waking up at midnight and trying to hike the Maryland Challenge.
(Transcriber's note: I recently received a packet of Jacob's entries going back to August 19th. I have updated all the logs.)
Didn’t write anything over the weekend, though it’s not as if I didn’t have time for it. On Saturday we went to a tourist trap that showcased Amish life, and saw a movie on the Amish and took a buggy ride. It was somewhat interesting. After that we had a nice lunch at the Round The Clock Diner near our hotel. I had Eggplant Parm with Spaghetti. The eggplant was very deeply fried. After that we went to EMS and I got some new boots – Vasque Clarion III’ s. They’re very comfortable. We met Jess and J.P. at a place called the One World Cafe, which was not bad. Mom and I played a round of pool, which I won very narrowly.
Sunday we had brunch in Heather and Michael’s room with all the family that was there. It was nice talking to some relatives. After that we hung around the rest of the day until the party. The party was interesting, and the food was excellent.
I was very glad to be back on the trail after two days off. We took a cab back to the trail, on the way back I started feeling sick to my stomach in an odd way. I couldn’t tell whether it was motion sickness, or something I ate, or just a random weird feeling. I have never gotten motion sickness before, and I hadn’t eaten anything since yesterday, so it was a mystery. Anyways, it got a little better once I started hiking. The woods had a weird feeling to them, very quiet. It was pleasant though, and I enjoyed walking with a pack on my back once again. It was neat to see a lot of our friends in the registers again (and there were a lot of registers. 3 shelters and one randomly placed register box.) Evidently many are planning to do the MD challenge. I’m still undecided whether to do it or not. If I did, I’ll probably start at midnight to take advantage of the near-full moon. Now I’m at the Mason-Dixon lines, waiting for Dad and wondering if I should find a campsite. And speak of the devil, here he is! Oh, also I just saw a hummingbird drinking from some jewelweed. That was pretty cool.
Last modified Thursday July 25, 2002