August 6 — 7 Miles today, 1015.8 miles from Springer, 1158.8 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +465 feet.
Climbs: 3, Wx: 80s, 100%, Shelter: 5, Dinner: 5, Overall: 5.
Waking up in the morning, I typed up my web log but didn’t go to Virginia for groceries, opting to go to the crummy Safeway in Watergate later in the day. The one cool thing about it is that everyone walks there. Otherwise, it’s crap. Alas, it means no Aquamira (I should be able to get through Pennsylvania with what I have) and no Cabot cheese (I rate supermarkets now on the availability of Cabot Hunters seriously sharp cheddar cheese) but I think I’ll survive.
I was running late — literally running — I was standing in the Metrocenter station, waiting for the Metro, with something like fourteen minutes until the train left Union Station two stops away. I made my reservation by phone (there is somehow decent cell coverage in the Metro) and made it to the train, which was packed full, by the skin of my teeth. I got one of the last seats, and we were off — slowly.
We stopped to wait for a coal train in Rockville, Maryland. The Brits I was sitting near were talking about how in Britain, if a passenger train had to wait for a freight, people would be livid. In the states, no one really cared. Lovely. The last bit of the ride in to Harpers Ferry, along the Potomac and through tunnels, is really quite nice. As I was getting ready to get off, standing by the door, the conductor opened the window, leaned his head out (inside a tunnel) and said that his favorite part of the ride was when they popped out of the tunnel on to the bridge across the Potomac. Alas, we were quite late, and I had to call the outfitter ahead to have them leave out denatured alcohol (fuel) for me, but it all worked out in the end.
Except, I was running late. I grabbed dinner and headed out along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath. It was still light along the river and it really a nice walk, and quite flat. The C&O canal was built in the 1820s and 1830s but never reached the Ohio and quickly surpassed by the paralleling railroad. Unlike the canal, which is dry or mucky, the railroad is still in use. But the trains don’t move very quickly. I soon found that out when I got to where the trail leaves the canal tow path and crosses the tracks and I had to wait a while for a very slow-moving, and long, train to crawl past. By the time it was through, it was dark in the woods, and I turned on my head lamp for the climb up to the shelter.
Washington, where I hadn’t been in several years, was interesting. First of all, there seemed to be more foreign tourists than Americans. While I am sure it tops the list of American cities to see (along with, say, New York), I was astounded that most of the visitors milling around the mall and Capitol were speaking different languages. Now, maybe Americans are smart enough not to show up in D.C. in the heat of the summer, while foreigners don’t know about the humidity. But maybe, just maybe, Americans don’t care about the cradle of our (fleeting) democracy, and their (our?) scarcity is due to apathy. I’d bet on the latter.
Oh, and cheers to the Smithsonian. Amazing, free, public museums? Perfect!
It was also very interesting to spend time in the city, the first designed capital city, with a geographic perspective. Watching how the planners, 200 years ago, used topography, angles and such to create a city based on the ideals and plans for the government is really intriguing. There are supposedly three checked-and-balanced pieces of the government. Around 1800, the most important, both owing to the size of the building and the location, was the Congress. The Supreme Court is right behind it, but the White House, the head of the executive branch, is a mile away, tucked down on a diagonal street, out of the way. Interesting, eh? Plus, you can see the Washington Monument from nearly anywhere, also an interesting use of the street pattern. And the Metro, with its sweeping architecture and design, is obviously a much more newly-constructed system than ones in Boston or New York.
August 7 — 24.8 Miles today, 1040.6 miles from Springer, 1134 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +460 feet.
Climbs: 3,4,4, Wx: 80s-90s, 60%, Shelter: 5, Dinner: 5, Overall: 5.
Maryland sure goes by fast. I got a late start and finish and still made about 25 miles. I heard thunder and saw wet ground, but never wound up having any rain fall on me. It was easy and flat except for the rocky sections atop a ridge, perhaps a precursor of what will be coming in Pennsylvania, uh, tomorrow. It was still hot but finally supposed to cool down soon, a good thing with the pack sores under my wet shirt on my back not feeling terribly well. I think I have a bit of a cold, too, but it could be a change-in-the-weather reaction.
I am getting quite good at killing the horseflies which seem to love the backs of my legs and torment me by flying in to them. Luckily, these bugs are very, very dumb and never really are able to land, only really bang in to the back of the legs. When they are at their worse, they just don’t back off, and need to be disposed. Because of their slow speed, a hat taken off can easily be smacked, and the big, dumb bug falls to the ground. I got half a dozen tonight. And some black and blues on my legs, too.
August 8 — 18.1 Miles today, 1058.7 miles from Springer, 1115.9 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: -310 feet.
Climbs: 4,4, Wx: 80s, 100%, Shelter: 5, Dinner: 5, Overall: 5.
What a difference a day, and 20 degrees, makes! It was still humid when we — me, a guy from Brooklyn and his dog, Oscar — woke up, but with a nice breeze. I found one of those Christian end-of-the-world “books” in the shelter and couldn’t resist the temptation to provide some meaningful commentary by means of a sharpie. Frankly, I have no idea how people read, and then believe this stuff. (Or, how the people dumb enough to believe this are able to read it.) In any case, after filling the pages with notes admonishing the author to provide corroborating evidence, cite more sources and, in some cases, just a big “No!” I was on my way.
It was ten easy miles to Pen-Mar Park (It sits on the border of two states. Guess which two.) with water, views, picnic tables, rubbish disposal — the works. I spent a while, and met Iceman and I’ve Only, the former a section hiker and the latter a Southbounder! I may have some company in Pennsylvania after all.
Finally, after the time at the park I left for the final eight miles to the third shelter in a four-mile stretch. The shelter, Tumbling Run, has a superb, if slightly poorly signed, spring. My acquisition of Sharpies let me draw a nice arrow directing others to its location, as the blue blaze is all but faded. The shelter is actually a pair of twin shelters (from the looks of the book, a bit of a theme here in Southern Pennsylvania). Here, however, they each have a sign: one is for “snoring” and the other for “non-snoring.” Since I had no company, I chose non-snoring, but it was rather moot. The shelters, which are near a road, also have perpetual trail magic: apples and Coke. There is no wind tonight, which means more bugs but also cool temperatures, conducive to my dreams of a long day tomorrow ending with the half-way, half-gallon challenge, and a hostel. I should be getting an early start.
I am also happy with Band-Aid Brand band aids, which seem to stick better than the knock-off rite-aids. That bleedin’ (literal and figurative) ingrown toenail is still a bit of a bother, but one wonders if it will hamper my progress. I fixed another body-related issue this morning and feel much better for it. My pack is internal-frame, which means that it has metal pack-stays in the back to keep it rigid and comfy. Over the years (and mainly over the last 1000 miles) the metal has bent and conformed to my back too much, meaning that I can’t carry the weight as I would like. Thus, my pack has been, recently, rather uncomfortable. The solution, however, was simpler, and more permanent, than the athletic-tape-band-aid toenail routine. I took out the pack stays (they are designed to come out) and, with the help of a picnic table, bent them back straight. And the results were terrific. Good, with a long day coming tomorrow.
Now, I may be only eight miles in to the state (with more than 200 to go), but so far the terrain and trail in Pennsylvania is not too bad, despite what I have heard. There are some rocky sections, but it comparable to anything down south. Of course, the bad part of the state is a bit further north, so, uh, I think I still got it coming. Here, the trail often follows old roads, ant at one point an old interurban line (as pointed out by a very poorly written commemorative plaque). So Pennsylvania is, so far, good.
Even better is the fact that I am now in the North! Remember, Maryland was a border state, and everything else is in the south. Well, except for West Virginia, I guess. Those were the counties in Virginia who, when the rest of the state said “we’s gonna fight to keep dem black folk as slaves,” responded, “uh, screw you!” Okay, it was mainly economic (not too many slaves, farming, or anything else in the West Virginia mountains), but at least they had some sense. But Pennsylvania, here, is the real north. I am walking South Mountain near Gettysburg, and I am back in a place without “y’all.”
August 9 — 29.5 Miles (MARATHON), 1088.2 miles from Springer, 1086.4 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: -300 feet.
Climbs: 3,4,4, Wx: 80s, 80%, Shelter: -, Dinner: 4, Overall: 5.
Anatomy of a 30 (okay, okay. 29.5) mile day:
6:00. Wake up. Moonlight? No, sunlight. Went back to sleep.
6:20: Wake up.
6:21 – 7:20 Morning chores, foot, food, pack, etc.
7:21: Trail Magic. Apple (delicious, which was named that mainly as a marketing ploy, because even its growers knew that it was anything but. Seriously.) and Coke, which I downed for the caffeine boost. Nothing like a Coke at 7:20 a.m. When my dad moved to Hawai’i in the late ’70s, one of the other Mainlanders there explained television. “Everything here is on tape delay,” he may have said. (I am imagining his exact speech and duly quoting it, it all happened several years before my time.) “Except Sunday football. Which is great. The games start at 7:00, and after two games, it’s only 1:00 and you can go out and surf or sail or swim the rest of the day away. And the hard part isn’t so much waking up for the early game at 7:00. It’s cracking open that first beer at 7:15.” Words of wisdom.
7:28: Hit the trail — on a sugar high.
7:50: Detour to view.
8:06: 1.2 miles, and my only big climb, down.
11:10: Arrive at Celedonia State Park (mile 10) for water and a restroom break.
11:34: Depart Caledonia as hundreds of kids mob the pool.
12:22: Short break at very nice Quarry Gap Shelters, mile 12.2.
2:12: Arrive Milesburn cabin for lunch, mile 17.2. The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) has several of these locked cabins on or near the trail. If you are a club member and pay a small fee, they will give you a key and you can stay there. They are rustic, though. The PATC maintains 240 miles of trail, second in distance only to the Maine Appalachian Trail Club. However, from what I have seen here and in Maine, they got it easy, including lots of road access and 100 miles of expertly-built in Shenandoah which is kept clear of vegetation by foot traffic. Still, they do a good job.
2:38: Depart the cabin.
3:22: Pass Birch Run Shelter (mile 19.6).
5:28: Arrive Tom’s Run Shelter (mile 25.8).
5:37: Depart, with less than four miles to go, and a marathon nearly completed.
6:45: In a jog, arrive at the store, and eat my ice cream. I downed my ice cream in 32 minutes. For 3000-plus calories of Hershey’s finest. The first two thirds is tolerable, the last few bites disgusting. But I did it! The record was set this year: 2 minutes and 12 seconds. How is that possible? They must have cheated and melted it. [I found out later that, yes, that is what they did. In which case they should get a Barry-Bonds-style asterisk. It doesn’t count unless you eat it all frozen. I bet I could drink that much ice cream, really just sweet milk, in that time too. Cheaters.]
So, uh, I feel good. The weather is great, although there really isn’t much to see along here. My feet are happy, knowing tomorrow is slated to be a shorter day. And I have a bed to sleep in, although it is a Hostelling International hostel, so I have to deal with the usual hostel mishugas. (Yiddish that roughly translates to “annoyances.”) Like having a sleep sack. And the hostel being closed and locked during the day. Frankly, I don’t get it. Do they do this just to be annoying? In any case, it is time for bed.
August 10 — 15.5 Miles today, 1103.7 miles from Springer, 1070.9 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +130 feet.
Climbs: 4,4, Wx: 80s, 40%, Shelter: 4, Dinner: -, Overall: 3.
The hostel did have proper cereal this morning. That was a start. However, I didn’t feel great — a bit of a cold seems to be getting worse, which also often means that the weather is getting more humid. My body is its own barometer. And, between 0 and -10, a thermometer, too! In any case, I felt slow all day, plus it was indeed warmer and muggier. There were a lot of roads, rocks and nothing too scenic, either. I had a long lunch at a store near the trail (and got to read from the Harrisburg Newspaper, which had “letters to the editor” about how we have to stand by out president and God all the time and never question anything he says. I wanted to hurl. Or maybe it was the half gallon of ice cream.) My cold didn’t really improve, there was a lot of silly bouldering (“we could put the trail around, but we decided to go over”), maybe because it would be too easy otherwise, and the strap on my Nalgene broke. After three years, this was coming. Sitting on the trail, I took out my Swiss Army knife (I need it once every couple weeks, but it sure is handy when I need it), some parachute cord, and a lighter. By weaving the P-cord through the still-intact neck-loop of the Nalgene, I was able to create a splendid little strap. Now we will see if it stands the test of time.
There was also a creepy instance. About amile from a road I found an abandoned tent, not zipped up as a backpacked would have left it, but looking like a vagrant slept there. Nothing about it felt right. I moved on, quickly, vowing to tell the ATC in Boiling Springs tomorrow. I got to a shelter at 15 miles, and nature called, loudly (maybe the ice cream) and I decided to call it a night. It is 29 miles to the Doyle in Duncannon tomorrow if I can make it. I have a package there on Saturday morning. Plus, I kind of like these short-long days, and tomorrow promises a long, flat stretch. I just need an early start and nice weather. And I need for this numbskull who thinks he is cool because he rolls his own cigarettes and smokes them in the shelter to quit it. I hate smokers. I really do.
August 11 — 29.5 Miles (MARATHON), 1133.2 miles from Springer, 1041.4 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: -565 feet.
Climbs: 3,4, Wx: 70s, 100%, Shelter: -, Dinner: 5, Overall: +.
I wanted to get up early. Instead, I woke up at 8, having slept off my cold, and through the light rain shower which hit, bringing in much drier air. It was late, and I jumped out of bed and hit the road. There were a couple miles to go through the woods before I broke out in to the sunshine in the flat Cumberland valley. By flat, I mean flat. Fifteen miles without more than about 100 feet in elevation differential. Flat. The trail goes from the Blue Ridge, across the valley, just west of Harrisburg, and up on to a ridge to the north of the valley, which extends, with a few breaks, through New Jersey (actually, the first ridge you hit isn’t the ridge you follow, but you hit that ridge soon enough). The trail in the valley is very different than the trail pretty much anywhere else, with almost continuous farms and subdivisions, although it is now mostly routed off roads, a far cry from what the situation supposedly was several years ago. I stopped for a bit at the Appalachian Trail Conference regional office in Boiling Springs, read the paper and got water, before I went off north.
The trail here also goes through a remarkable stretch of interstates and other roads. Within a couple miles it crosses the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the Harrisburg Pike (on a pedestrian bridge) and then, for the third time, Interstate 81. The amazing thing is that in the past five months I have been in the Harrisburg are three times. First, I was here for the Northeast Geologic Society of America conference in March. In May, coming back from Minneapolis via Chicago and Louisville, we drove under the trail on the Harrisburg Pike. And finally, I came in on the trail. Interestingly enough, I arrived by plane, car and foot, and left (or at least plan to leave) by train, car and foot. Intermodal.
Finally, after the valley ends (it would be glorious to see shade on a warm day, but with today’s dry, cool weather, I kind of liked the flatness) the trail ascends two rocky ridges, before it peers down at Duncannon. I watched a beautiful sunset from the ledge above Duncannon before going down in to town by headlamp and heading to the Doyle. The Doyle is a 1905 era Anheuiser Busch hotel which has seen a bit of neglect in recent years. Okay. It’s a hole. But you get a thin mattress and a Red Sox fan owner for your $20 a night, so it’s not all bad. Plus, it has been, for years, a hiker hang out, and today was no different. I got pizza with a guy who was driving to hike another section and decided to stop in on the way, as well as two SOBOS, including a vegan who cheated and had some of our pizza. Her name is Soybone. Seriously, how do you thruhike without eating any cheese, milk or meat? Nuts. (Believe it or not, no pun intended)
August 12 — 11.4 Miles today, 1144.6 miles from Springer, 1030 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +795 feet.
Climbs: 3, Wx: 70s, 100%, Shelter: 5, Dinner: 5, Overall: 5.
Today was a short day out of the Doyle. I had breakfast in the morning and hit up the Post Office, before getting a ride up to a very nice, local market. (My market ratings are usually based on the availability, and price, of Cabot Seriously Sharp “Hunter’s Favorite” cheese, which keeps for weeks even in the warm weather.) I then watched the start of a Sox game until it became a shellacking (the wrong way) and hit the trail.
The first part of the trail is along a residential street in Duncannon. People were mightly friendly, at least those outside taking advantage of the weather, and almost everyone gave a hearty hello. I had a problem, however. I had had about a half gallon of orange juice I bought from the grocery, and despite using the toilet at the Doyle, I had to go. I am used to turning to the side of the trail and letting loose, but in this case that was impossible, as I would have let loose in someone’s yard. Finally, I spotted a patch of woods, wandered in, and was relieved. After crossing the Juniata on a long bridge and the Susquehanna on a longer one. (It’s amazing how a relatively placid-looking river could cause as much distruction as it had — the Doyle had pictures of water eye-high in 2004, but I could easily see the bottom.) I crossed a set of railroad tracks and proceeded to climb up on to a ridge in what would likely be my first acquaintance with the famed north-of-Duncannon Pennsylvania Rocks.
There was one climb and the rocks weren’t too bad, and the great weather made up for it. I had views down the Susquehanna to Harrisburg, and the temperatures were still in the 70s. The forecast was for near-record lows near 50 overnight, while I had seen, at the Doyle, that Northern New England was dipping in to the 30s. Mount Washington was at the freezing point. Lovely. August 12. The shelter was very nice, but the water source was all the way down the edge of the ridge (a theme in Pennsylvania), although they provided gallon jugs to take down and fill up. It was a haul to get up, but maybe I was able to help others.
There were a couple locals up for the evening. They had gotten outfitted for the trip with packs from Cabela’s, an outdoor superstore which specializes in selling things like guns. So they had camo backpacks. Why would anyone want a camo backpack? Why? Because you don’t want to be seen in the woods? Do you want to look like a deer with a bunch of other Cabelas folks wandering around with their guns? It is foolish.
August 13 — 30.8 Miles (MARATHON), 1175.4 miles from Springer, 999.2 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +120 feet.
Climbs: 3,4,3, Wx: 70s-80s, 100%, Shelter: 5, Dinner: 5, Overall: 5.
It was a great, cool morning for hiking. I snuggled in to my sleeping bag and slept straight through my 7:00 alarm. No worries. I was on the trail at a reasonable hour, heading for the second shelter, 31 miles away (the first shelter is 17 miles). The going was generally easy as the rocks were not too bad. There was an old town site (Yellow Springs) which had an old, rickety mailbox with a trail register. I signed in and proceeded along the trail about a mile, where I met a couple local trail workers carrying some wood down the trail. I chatted them up. Where were they off to? To replace the mailbox. Pennsylvania seems, at times, to be blazes on trees through rock fields, but the big concern is replacing the mailbox, lovely. It is cool, however, to be the last signer in the old box. To a degree.
The day today was not flat. The trail, in skirting Harrisburg, climbs up the northernmost of four ridges, called, from north to south, Peters Mountain, Third Mountain, Second Mountain, and Blue Mountain (Not the same thing as the Blue Ridge). The trail bounces along, going down Peters Mountain, over Third and Second Mountains before it ascends, and stays on, Blue Mountain. I was on all four today.
On a long uphill, I tried to take my heart rate. However, by the time I had counted off six or eight seconds, it was slowing considerably. That’s the amazing thing about the Trail, how much it decreases my recovery time. So my cardio is strong, and my ankles are taking the rocks well, too.
The trail passes by several old coal slag heaps (generally from a long time ago, before better deposits were found elsewhere — these were dug by hand) along the ridges. At one point, it goes down to an old railroad grade-turned-bike path. It crosses a nice arch bridge, where there is a “well,” which passes very acidic water (as acidic as vinegar) through crushed limestone in order to clean it and create a trout habitat. (The water is polluted from the mining which took place in the area.) So there is what seems to be a waterfall of crystal-clear, very blue water coming out of a weird, concrete thing. I filled my bottles there, and I was happy not to have to drink vinegar.
Finally, I crossed the last valley (In June, when the floods hit Pennsylvania, some of the streams were “chest deep fords” according to the register, although most were trickles for me.) and, at the Swatara River, traversed a very intriguing iron truss bridge. It had an arch and an inverted arch, both attached to anchors at either end, with trusses in between. I have a picture, which explains it much better than I can here. From there, I was to pass under I-81 for the last time and climb up the ridge. I wandered down a road walk, under the highway, and along a road which seemed to have faded white blazed, although one of the many problems with Pennsylvania is the blazing. The trail is often on, or on the border of, state game land. The state uses white paint on trees to mark the boundaries of its land. So my goal was to try to discern white blazes from survey boundary marks. No easy task. After I followed the road for about a half mile, I realized I was lost, and retraced my steps, until I found the trail ascending up under the highway. The main issue was that, in addition to no sign pointing up the trail, the double white blaze had been obscured by some numbskull who painted a giant marijuana leaf right over the double blaze, completely obscuring it. I pulled out my sharpie and drew a big arrow, and having wasted half an hour of daylight, I trudged up the trail.
Once I got to the top of the ridge, the first really bad Pennsylvania rocks hit. They were horrid. Most were fist-sized, piled together, interspersed with boulderfields. There were few, if any, sections which were tolerable. I didn’t get in to the shelter, which was empty, until 10:30, and wasn’t in bed until midnight.
August 14 — 19.2 Miles today, 1194.6 miles from Springer, 980 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +210 feet.
Climbs: Nil, Wx: 80s, 100%, Shelter: 5, Dinner: 5, Overall: 5.
My pole tip broke. Again. Not in town. Nowhere I can get a pliers and get the old one off. Oh well. Maybe I can grab a new one in Port Clinton. With the late arrival and the pole issues, I didn’t hit the trail until 11:00.
I made four easy miles (yes, there are sections of Pennsylvania which are on graded paths without rocks, which are overshadowed by the rest of the state) to the 501 shelter, an enclosed building with a solar (cold) shower, and proper water. I spent a while. I made good time by the Hertle Campsite, which has a enormous spring. It’s amazing how much water comes out of the side of the mountain, even when everything else is quite dry. Of course, it did rain a lot a couple months ago.
With about four miles to go, I met Butterfly and Monkey, two thru-hikers planning to flip-flop out of Port Clinton. They would take a bus to Philly, another to New York, another to Boston, and another to Bangor, and then hitch to Katahdin. They were scheduled to take nineteen hours to get from Port Clinton to Bangor, including one of those lovely overnight-change-at-the-Port Authority trips. I asked why they decided not to just go to the Martz Bus at Delaware Water Gap but they had their advance reservations. They were plodding along, not pulling long days, and still not getting in before dark. So, in order to facilitate a relatively early arrival, I set a quick pace and they were happy to keep up. In return, they were to lead me out early the next morning, as they planned to leave at 6:30.
We were flying along as dusk approached and all of the sudden as I scanned the trail ahead I saw a snake all of eight inches from my planted foot. I jumped up what felt like about eight feet and yelled at Butterfly and Monkey behind me “snake!” The snake was silent — I thought it was a copperhead, but it rattled as Monkey and Butterfly made a wide ring through the bush as the snake sat comfortably on the trail.
Camp arrived just after dark, and we were happy to be there, even though it took quite a while to fill water at the trickle of a spring. It was 8:45. I remembered watching the sun disappear below the horizon at 8:45 in Virginia in July. Now, further east and in August, it was dark.
August 15 — 23.8 Miles today, 1218.4 miles from Springer, 956.2 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: -975 feet.
Climbs: 3,3, Wx: 70s-80s, RF, 40%, Shelter: +, Dinner: 1, Overall: 5.
I woke up around 6:00. To rain. It was pounding down pretty good, and I took my water bottle and filled it up off of the roof. By about 8:00, we were finally making the decision to go, rain or no, as Monkey and Butterfly did have a bus to catch. Butterfly is from Michigan and we talked for a while. He mentioned that, in a time of little means, he realized that people spent tons of money to fly halfway around the world but they barely knew their back yards, and he spent the next couple years hiking every state park in Michigan, for $20 each year. Very cool. I don’t know what I will do for my next long distance hike or hiking project. Perhaps the Superior Hiking Trail in Minnesota. Maybe the PCT. And I’ve been toying with the idea of a triangular hike from Whitney to Rainier to Elbert and back to Whitney, the three 14,000-foot-plus high points in the United States. But Butterfly’s idea is intriguing as well.
I started out a couple minutes behind Monkey and Butterfly and caught them pretty quickly. We hiked together in the rain, which was ending, until I scampered by and went down in to town. It was relatively easy in to Port Clinton, albeit with a steep descent to the bottom of the valley. I got in at 12:30, and went to the outfitter. Which had closed. The sign said “sorry, closed today” but the locals said he’d closed for good. Drat. I planned a small resupply and a new pole tip, and with no other store in town, there was nowhere to procure food. I’d probably have enough to make it to New Jersey, and if not there were plenty more places to hitch for food.
I ate lunch, decent wings and a decent burger, at the semi-friendly bar/hotel in town. Port Clinton has a very bad reputation, which is pretty well deserved. I’ve heard stories of people being scolded for walking down the street, and one of a person who wanted to dispose of a food drop box at the post office. “We can’t take all your trash,” she was told by the USPS worker, “we’re a poor town.” Never mind it was a post office, and it would have cost them nothing to dispose of the box. And if it is such a poor town, someone ought to open their home as a hostel and hiker resupply store. This is one of very few towns on the trail with no hostel or resupply. I think they lack initiative.
So I was glad to get out of Port Clinton, after saying good-bye and “see you up the trail” to Monkey and Butterfly, who I figured I’d see somewhere in northern New England. The rain had been associated with a warm front, and all of the sudden, instead of the pleasant weather which had made Pennsylvania tolerable, I was hiking in heat and humidity. Before leaving, I’d stopped at the only other venue in town, a candy shop, and stocked up. So I was reasonably full for the climb out of town, and trail which alternated from rocky to smooth old roads. On one I encountered and ATV, who was much more polite than the folks down in Tennessee, apologized for riding the trail, said he was just trying to get to water for his dog (bad excuse, I stared him back the other way) and, frankly, was on a portion of the trail which was an old road, not the top of a sensitive bald, tearing through fragile grasses. This may be Pennsyltucky, but it’s the north.
And, just as fast as the humid air had moved in, cumulonimbus clouds began to build, then blew over, and ushered dry, cool air back over the trail. I was glad not to have to deal with another heat wave. It also made for splendid views on the Pinnacle, where there are great views — mainly of farmland, but in one direction of the rest of the ridge, including Lehigh Gap, visible dozens of miles away as a gash in the otherwise uniformly flat ridge. From there, it was a five mile roadwalk (on a gated, gravel road) to the Eckville shelter, with electricity, doors, and proper water and plumbing. Couldn’t ask for more.
I talked to my folks too, and when I get to Delaware Water Gap, I will take the Martz Bus in to New York for a zero and to see my mom, sister and other assorted family. And to eat a lot of food.
August 16 — 24.2 Miles today, 1242.6 miles from Springer, 932 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +465 feet.
Climbs: 3, Wx: 70s-80, 90%, Shelter: 5, Dinner: 2, Overall: 3.
I felt like crap this morning. It took quite a bit of eating, toilet, water and moping before I hit the trail. The first five miles were awful, to boot: lots of rocks, lots of gnats attracted to me and the DEET. As someone in Duncannon said, “the bugs in Maine smell DEET and think ‘ooh, a fine aperitif.'” It hurt more than it helped. Ick. I also managed to break open a bag of trail mix and dispose of part of it on the trail. And I didn’t do the decent thing — I ran off. Sorry.
There was some better walking in the afternoon. I was running late and had to climb over some rocks jutting out at 45 degree angles to reality. It was pretty with the late sun, but pretty awful walking. In fact, I was amazed that I didn’t break an ankle or leg hopping along this ridge. At the shelter, the log wrote of a death on the north side of Lehigh Gap a couple days before, a day hiker had slipped on the rocks and fallen to his death. The trail was closed and people had (got) to take the foul weather trail. There were also some rants about the lack of trail (or at least trail maintenance) beyond white blazes on the rock in this section. I chimed in. It was then five miles of night hiking to a shelter, not in Palmerton, but just before the gap. I lost my good pole tip (I have a back up, I just could never get the broken tip off without pliers) too, all in all, a mediocre day. At least there were nice sights along the ridge, including the Pennsylvania Turnpike’s Northeast Extension passing several hundred feet underneath through a tunnel. And lots of lights — civilization.
August 17 — 30.5 Miles (MARATHON), 1273.1 miles from Springer, 901.5 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: +480 feet.
Climbs: 3,4,4, Wx: 80s, 80%, Shelter: 4, Dinner: 4, Overall: 3.
I got an early start today, down the steep side of Lehigh Gap. At the bottom, there were folks doing a survey of trail use for the National Park Service. Talk about a cushy job. They saw all of a dozen people each day, and did this work several times during the summer. They also had all the spring water we could drink. I would have gone for some Dunkin Donuts, but water is appreciated, since it hasn’t rained much in weeks. The water is K-Mart brand, and comes from, you guessed it, a municipal water supply in Tennessee. Someone is paying for tap water from 1000 miles away. Let me point out that I did not lug all my water 1000 miles. I told they they should just have gallon jugs of local tap water, but chugged a few bottles anyway.
Lehigh Gap is rather impressive, and the climb out of it is a serious scramble. The top has great views in all directions for miles, because nothing will grow there. Why? Heavy metal pollution. Until 1982, Palmerton had huge zinc smelters, which polluted this downwind range so much that it looks like a forest fire has swept through, or a nuclear weapon dropped. Literally nothing grows, and I was glad the sun was not at its height. At least someone built a road that the trail now follows. There was another trail survey and water station at the end of the dead zone.
From there, it was several rocky miles to Wind Gap, with a highway and an Indian-run motel (one of the many) which filled water. There, a southbounder told me that there was an all-night diner in Delaware Water Gap. Wowie. I would definitely be down for food, even if it was fifteen dark miles away. So I made dinner by the roadside. (I sat across from a trailer park, er, manufactured housing development with a classy rock at the entrance bearing its name. Okay, it was a gravestone.) I picked up my pack, now light with nearly no food left, and made for the hills.
And, little did I know, but the worst of the rocks were yet to come. For the next nine miles, to the last shelter in the state, I saw maybe fifteen feet of dirt. The rocks were in all sizes, and I was cursing their existence. It was a miserable walk, but probably better at night; I didn’t have to contemplate the trail ahead filled with more rocks. Each rock was a splendid surprise. It was intolerable. Finally, around 2:00, I made it in to the shelter. No hike down to the Water Gap, I was going to get a little sleep.
The moral of the day: It is possible to say “I wish I was in Jersey now” and actually mean it. I said it many times.
August 18 — 6.4 Miles today, 1279.5 miles from Springer, 895.1 Miles to Katahdin, Net elev: -890 feet.
Climbs: Nil, Wx: 70s, 40%, Shelter: -, Dinner: +, Overall: 5.
I left the shelter around 6:00, after less than four hours of sleep. The other guy there must have thought I was nuts. It was just past dawn, but the trail was much easier, and I was done with the PA Rocks. They make T-shirts which proudly proclaim “PA Rocks!” They should be shot.
The reason I left so early was the bus schedule. There are tons of buses at commute time; the Poconos are a long-distance bedroom community for New York City. So there are buses every 20 to 30 minutes until 8:40, and then there is no bus until 11:10. I wanted to make the 8:40. So I sprinted down the trail, and then through the town, making it to the bus station just in time to catch the bus. Sweaty, dirty and smelly, I settled in to a coach bus (with a diverse, racially and economically, ridership) for the ride in to the City. It’s amazing how fast you can cover distance with a diesel engine.
I was in the city by 10:00, four hours after leaving a shelter above the Delaware. I was totally out of place in the Port Authority Bus Terminal and on the subway. No one else was wearing polypro clothing, wool socks or a worn hiking pack. I decided, in the interest of not raising the ire of the NYPD, to collapse my hiking poles and stow them in my pack. I got off the subway near Columbia to go to my cousin’s apartment and meet my mom and sister where I realized why the AT should be rerouted through Manhattan (seriously, how cool would that be?): There is food available for purchase every fifty feet. I had a croissant at the bus station, and hot dog just out of the subway, and was ready for more a few blocks later. It was a thru hiker’s paradise. Food everywhere.
I proceeded to shower, shave and clean up, before grabbing pizza and taking it down to meet Jed (who works downtown for a software firm making money) and eat food. Then I met my mom and sister, and we went back uptown to the Whitney, and then across town to eat food. I ate a lot of food It was delightful.
In the evening, I called Eliana, who lives in Chicago. Except this week she happened to be visiting home in New York. As she put it, “the whole world is in New York.” So after a visit back over to the East Side, I went on down to Penn Station for a late PATH train across to the hotel in beautiful Hoboken.