Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Where am I?

I haven't finished the last chapter. I know, bad blogger, bad!

But I've been very busy back in the swing of the real world (not the TV show).

I went to Charleston SC for a bachelor party and then work in Colleton, SC the following week.

I flew to Salt Lake City and got teased by mountains, but had long shifts and wasn't able to play in them. On the way back I dodged a hurricane by flying into Charlotte, NC and drove to get home, though we didn't have any damage.
The mountains were calling and I couldn't go...

We went to a wedding in Virginia and enjoyed some wineries on the way out there.

We clean up pretty good for hiker trash
Then Halloween came around.
I'm a Russian pirate. Kaya is a backpacker.

Cara's parents came down right after Halloween. We worked on the house for a bit, replacing windows, deck, door, and back-splash (and RING Shopping!) before flying out again to Florida for work. This time though I got the chance to kayak down the Weeki Wachee river and play with some manatees!

Soon after getting back from Florida, I flew to Atlanta for work for a day to meet a customer.

After that Thanksgiving was right around the corner. Kaya went north with Cara's parents and we went south to Nashville TN to see my parents. On our way back from TN I asked Cara to marry me at Lover's Leap Winery in Kentucky! I'm getting MARRIED in a year and a half!

I have been all over the country since I've been home from the Appalachian Trail. Lots of travel, some of it was actually fun too. But I've been super busy. After flying back from Augusta I've been to: South Carolina, Nevada, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee. Up coming we are going to San Francisco in December and Florida in January... but there's plenty of weekends in between that I'm sure we'll get around to some other spots too! We really are Here, There, and Everywhere...

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Chapter 5 - Arrival in New England, hiking like it's my Job

I hiked out of Bear Mountain, crossing the gorgeous Hudson, the world seeming to be twice a beautiful after the rain the previous day! The Trail follows a road for a couple miles before ascending up a hillside. This section didn't have good water, so as the Trail passed another road I was able to buy some water and get lunch, as well as continue the trend of having ice cream everyday that I had been in NY. There are so many deli's in NJ, NY, and CT that is an easily conceivable goal to have ice cream and soda daily - one day I thought I would only be able to have soda, I went down a state park and found they had an ice cream vending machine!

I was always trying to figure out why, in books and journals about the AT that these states always seemed to be skimmed over, people tales were vividly explained all the way up through PA and then got shy of information until New Hampshire really. I thought the hiking was enjoyable through this region, I was able to eat ice cream daily, and the hills and climbs were sometimes very steep, but always short. NJ had a few sections on board walks crossing over bogs, but that seems to be what hikers remember most about the state - like the rocks of PA, these board walks made up less than 1% of the Trail there.
NY was gorgeous to begin with, and different than anything I had seen, then the Trail lost it's allure and ascended and descended through forest that could have been in Virginia again!
I bypassed Graymoor Spiritual Center - it was early in the day and why would I want to sleep on concrete 1/2 mile off trail? Many hikers seemed to end up staying there with the friars. It was another one of those iconic places along the Trail, shrouded in mist and mystery that I didn't want to visit - some of those places had turned out disappointing! Instead I continued on, over Canopus Hill, a gorgeous tiny mountain with some good views into the surrounding farmland I was now traversing. The day was hot and humid the occasional threat of rain, but as evening neared the day cleared off and became nice.
At Dennytown Rd there is a spring fed water faucet coming directly out of a building, sweet cold water! I had been getting low and was too glad to fill up. I had plans to go 3 more miles to the road crossing I was to meet Flip at the following day, as I walked the 1/10 of a mile over a small freshly mowed field into the cool expanse of woods the forest opened up, the cathedral ceiling stretching above me. And there was a familiar camo tent set up just off the Trail. My good friend Animal was here, I had caught up to him yet again! I decided to camp in this most comfortable spot, the campsite up on a hill overlooking a dry stream bed and further the far view of the forest opening to a pond, the sound of frogs croaking echoing up to the soft flat spot under the trees where our camp lay. Water was close at hand, I had only 3 miles to go in the morning to meet Flip, and I had good company to hang out with this evening. Later more familiar faces showed up, Croc-hunter, Boots, and others also camped near by.

The next morning I made it to Flip at NY 301 - we put our packs on and after reunion and the happy dance we set off - his second AT adventure with me! Less than a mile later around Canopus Lake I insisted we hide our packs and do a side trail to Clarence Fahnestock SP - where we found an open snack bar... with ice cream! After the daily routines, we hiked north once more, catching up on happenings in our lives. Me telling stories of the Trail, he telling stories of the 'real' world, the world waiting to take me back into it's mean embrace the world of work and work and TV and work.
We hiked 10 miles and began looking for a place to stay, we stopped only briefly at RPH shelter, which is more like a hostel that's missing a wall! The water from the hand pump there was red with high iron (rust) content, but tasted just fine. We filled our bottles and headed on up a mountain that had houses on one side and us on the other. I hadn't counted on such a small AT right of way and was concerned we wouldn't find a place to camp and have to continue much further. Fortunately at the far end of the mountain a shoulder opened up and we found a rarely used campsite, though it had been used. There was someone shooting close by, probably a mile or so, in short blasts, anything from 4 shots to 11, obviously from a semi-automatic, and the time between loads was very quick, this continued on for a few hours, we had thoughts of some hill-jack accosting us" 'cause we was on his property".
We set up our hammocks (Flip decided to try the same setup as me) close by, sharing one tree and going off in a 'V'. He used a regular square tarp as the tarp over the hammock. I liked my setup a bit better for head room, but his was a much cheaper and just as effective method to cover the hammock. His setup cost less than $100 and was as light or lighter than a Hennessy Hammock! Not too shabby.
As Flip began gathering firewood I watched as he sawed a piece of wood with his collapsible camp saw (something I would never carry, but the boy loves his fires!!) and as it broke yelped and jumped. I thought he had got himself with the saw, but no, he had stepped in a yellow-jacket nest! Right by the campfire ring too. Damn! Fortunately they weren't as aggressive as some I have seen. They didn't chase us and as long as we stayed on our side of the fire and they on theirs and uneasy truce between our species was had.
Flip, as you may remember, is a gourmet camp cook. And he didn't fail this time either! Bringing back a favorite I asked him and we had backpackers pizza again! Easy, cheesy, and no clean-up, everything I'm looking for in a dinner!
The next morning we woke to rain. Not just a little rain but torrential down-pour rain. Flip dove out of his hammock and sat with me under mine. I took down the hammock and we had lots of room to stretch out and stay dry under the Big Top. We had planned on getting down off this mountain first thing for water, but we decided to wait out the rain. I put my Nalgen under the side of the tarp where the most amount of water seemed to be pouring off - I re-filled all our bottles in no time, fresh clean rain water.
As soon as the rain let up we tore down camp and headed out, the day staying gray and humid, we crossed over pleasant rolling hills, not straining us much. We had no firm plan on how far we were going to hike, just until we were tired! We ended up going 18 miles - not bad for Flip without Trail legs.

Oldest Tree on the Trail
Fortunately, as our water situation got desperate again, a Trail Angel lives 100 yards down the road for the above oak. She provides a hose run out to her fence, where hikers can refill. Thank goodness for the wonderful kindness of people through this area. NY has terrible water, black puddles, and stream running out of shallow beaver ponds.

Are we back in Virginia?! I can't tell

We continued on into the gray evening, passing the much vaulted Appalachian Trail Railroad Station, the only such thing on the Trail. As the next train wasn't scheduled for 4 days in the future we continued on! At NY 22 a garden center allows hikers to setup their tents in the backyard, get a shower, and have access to water. Occasionally a guy sells pizza right by the road as well. We decided to head up the Trail a bit further and find a good place to hang. The Trail passed thru some fields before beginning to ascend Hammersly Ridge - beforehand I had imagined the woods opening up and finding a good camping spot. Instead the woods looked like Shenandoah all over, a jungle-like oppressiveness drove us on and up, Flip was exhausted after the long day and was ready to be in camp, but there were no good spots! Finally as the evening grew dim the woods opened up a bit and we decided that open woods was what we needed, not flat open woods! We setup right off the Trail and Flip cooked directly on the Trail as that was the only flat spot around. We sat and ate dinner in the middle of the Trail by headlamp as it was getting so dark! One of our finer moments, as far as I'm concerned - when presented with difficulty we overcame and still had a really tasty dinner!
The next gorgeous day we made great time, through the Nature Reserve we had been on the edge of and down to the NY/CT border! Another state done!
Thru the hot day we marched, up several very steep inclines. Sonic passed us, and that was the last I saw of him (tho he finished after me). We continued on with the thought of finishing either near Kent, or, if we moved fast enough at Kent - then I could get a zero and we could go watch Batman! Woohoo! The day was very hot, and soon enough, as with these hot days, thunder rolled from far out west. The heat was really getting to Flip. Athletically he is much more inclined than I. He runs all the time, kayaks, rock climbs, and it comes easy to him. I didn't really give a thought to me having been on the Trail in the heat and becoming acclimated to it better than he. Climbing these steep hills in this heat, I was able to keep pace and not over-heat much if at all. Flip was struggling, he was drinking more than I was and having to stop. Hiking every day for 3 months really does do wonders for your body!
Over the final hill and we descended to CT341 and the 9/10 into town. At the bottom a guy offered us a Hard Lemonade and a ride into town - YES! Very nice. I never hitched on this trip, but I did get rides! As we drove into town, the sky opened up, so we dodged that too. Good end for Flip. He went and got his car and we drove down to Danbury.
NOTE: Kent is not a good Trail town. They claim there is an Outfitters there, however they sell over-priced ice-cream, art, and designer clothing. There is one back closet that had barren shelves and nothing a backpacker would want. Do not make this a planned stop for items you might need like fuel, Aquamira, new boots, socks or food. When asked if they had Aquamira they said they were currently out (later I found they had been out all year). When asked where I might get some the guy said in Danbury there's a Walmart and a Dick's Sporting Goods (neither of which ever carry water purification). He FAILED to mention that in the same mall as the Dick's there is an EMS AND and LLBean!!! dude, thanks for looking out. Also of note the cheapest place to stay in Kent is over $200 a night. We drove an hour south to stay in a decently priced hotel.
After a nice zero in Danbury, filled with movies, buffets and laziness, Flip dropped me back off and headed home. Back into the wilds by myself. Parting and going at it alone was always tough. It was hard, sometimes, to accept I was being dropped off by the side of a road by myself in an unfamiliar state with just what I had on my back.
CT is a short state, and I think it might be a fun state to aqua-blaze south-bound. The Trail follows the Housatonic River, then goes up and over a small mountain or two before coming back down and following the river for miles and miles again. The bugs were terrible, there is on type of gnat that continually flies in ones ears, the only way to stay sane was to put a bandanna over my ears. The gnats then moved to fly under my chin, if I looked down there they were.

The bugs drove me nuts!
CT was the only state that I wore the bug net my parents had given me. I was rarely eaten by mosquitoes, and the deer flies only rarely buzzed me. It was the none biting gnats that were there to fly in my ears and my eyes and to just hang out and taste the air around me that drove me mad! I hated them, they made me want to go home. Interesting that something so small could illicit such hate and annoyance from me, but they did!
That night I had been told that there were enormous storms in the area so I pulled a bit short and stayed by a shelter, in case things got too real I could hide there. Terrible thunder in the far distance, the wind began whipping, I thought a bad storm was approaching. But then a light rain fell and the wind died down and the thunder stopped. Apparently in NY that night there were tornado watches and Cara was very worried about me!
The state continued to threaten rain, but so far I had been in the tent and dry. I hiked along the river again into Falls Village, the trees in the forest huge along the crushed gravel path leading into the town. Thru more fields of wild-flowers and skirting pastureland the Trail drew closer to MA, though I could still be in Virginia. At some point during the long day I decided to press on and get out of CT! I ended up doing 23 miles and camping just over the border in Sages Ravine. The climb to the highest point in CT was steep but not too long, the end of the day clearing up and becoming nice.
Highest point in CT is a pile of rocks... go figure
Sages Ravine felt more like New England, seconds into another state and everything changed. The Trail followed a gorgeous little creek that was filled with clean clear water, the pines and birch cradled the ravine in soft beauty.
The following day started misty and began raining in earnest once I ascended a few high hills. In one valley a group of day hikers stood waiting out the rain, I waved and continued. I'm going to get wet either way I might as well walk! I took my time on the wet rocks, especially as the Trail descended off the ridgeline down to a long valley walk and one last crossing of the Housatonic. The rain continued and as I got to the road crossing to go into Great Barrington I decided a dry room would be just dandy! So I hiked the three mile road walk into town. At the Days Inn, normally a cheap crappy hotel, I found the "last room" in town. A hikers room with no furniture but for a bed, for the lowlow price of $250 a night. Damn they got me. Other than that, the town was nice, and the food cheap and good. At this point, after the long road walk my right foot hurt so bad. After removing my pack and showering I limped down the street. This worried me at bit.

MA was gorgeous! Finally the trees began changing and staying changed! The purple lupins in the fields, the pine, and birch, taking over. I could finally say I was out of the south! I made good time out of Great Barrington and made it to just beyond I-90, and to a motel that had a drop box for me. The place was so nice, right on a lake, good accommodations - and $55. Right before this I hiked with Passionflower a blogger I had been following leading up to and during the hike. It was almost like meeting a celebrity! We chatted for a few miles, before she decided to go to Upper Goose Pond, and I decided to continue on to the Berkshire Lakeside Inn.
I did a 23 mile day out of the Inn. The paradox of MA for me was I loved it and I didn't want it to end, but it was just so nice I couldn't help but do a 29 mile day followed by a 23 mile day followed by a 20 mile day!
I remember passing through the towns of MA, Chesire and North Adams, but I didn't stop in them. In one side, down a street, out the other side. Many people have memories of the Birdcage or Tom Levardi's, both were hostels, and both I didn't want to stay at, plus I was making such great time! If I continued on I'd make my goal of VT by August 1st!
Mt Greylock was much easier a climb than I thought it would be, a steep section followed by a long flat section before ascending again to the highest point in MA. At 3491 it was the highest the Trail had been since VA! At the top the forest changed to gorgeous hemlock forest. There, upon the top, lay a lodge that sold, you guessed it, ice cream!
Look closely for the 2 hang-gliders in the back ground!

I camped at the Sherman Brook Campsite just shy of the VT border on July 31. On August 1st I hiked into Vermont and then walked into town to Bennington VT. The hotel there said they would pick me up at the Trail, but there was no signal so I walked 4 miles. They did drop me back off the next morning though.
The mountains began getting bigger again, the climbs longer. VT eases hikers back into it as there was nothing too strenuous, just long, and rather boring. There weren't many views and trying to remember back I can't remember specifics of this area too well. My foot was hurting badly in the morning and evenings, my energy level dropped and I dragged myself over Stratton Mt on a gloomy day. There are very long stretches on the map and in my mind that nothing of note happened. I could feel the big days from MA catching up to me, more in tune with my body I knew I needed a day of rest. I could keep pushing for a week until I saw Cara, or more intelligently, I could take a day off. I got a room close to the Trail head at Bromley Sun Lodge one sunny afternoon... that quickly turned into a thunderstorm once I was inside!

The Lodge picked me up at the Trailhead and offered a ride back after the day off, however on my day off I had visited the adjacent ski area and noticed a lift running up the mountain. I inquired and they said I could purchase a one way ticket to the top the next day - I'll take it! The following day I packed up and checked out and found only the lift running halfway up the mountain was running - because of my inconvenience I got that ride for free. I floated on the lift, thinking about all the steps I wasn't taking! Even with half the mountain done, it was still a long climb.

Moose POO!!
I was hiking around a road walk section that had been washed out by Hurricane Irene in 2011. I turned on my phone and got a text message from my brother - he knew I was in VT, he was heading to ME for vacation and would be passing through VT in a few hours. Would I want to meet up, stay in a hotel for the night, eat at restaurants? Well, duh?! I let him know where I was going to be, on Upper Cold River Rd. I made dinner, sat and read and just a bit after dark they found me on the back roads of VT. My right foot hurting worse than ever, hobbling to see him is an appropriate explanation of how I was walking.
After a night in the hotel in Rutland with Kevin and Jen I had a decision to make: get dropped off on the Trail, hike 3 more days to get to Hanover and have Cara come and pick me up (hopefully my foot would allow this) or have Kevin drop me off at Lovett's Inn in Franconia and wait for Cara there and let my foot hopefully heal so I could enjoy hiking again!
I decided to flip a coin and go with whatever the chances told me!


Friday, September 28, 2012

Chapter 4 - Black water and Blue skies

New Jersey! The state was treating me well. I was getting ice cream a lot, and after the long state of Pennsylvania the end of the state was rushing towards me. While off the Trail, I set the date of wanting to get into Vermont by August 1st - 15 days ahead. That meant the rest of Jersey, New York, Connecticut  and Massachusetts. Just over 200 miles in  half a month. That seemed like a doable plan, but as we've learned already, having a "there by date" is a dangerous thing, so I didn't make it that I must be there by then, only that I'd like to be there!
There were lots of youth groups out, large groups traveling in either direction from NYC and surrounding areas. The shelter areas were occasionally hectic, to say the least. One night in particular I was in camp fairly early, along with Cheeks, Papa Wolf, and some others, when a group of 15 rolled in and setup camp. Shortly after another group of 20 plus hiked in! Talk about a busy (over-used!) site! I can understand why the site was popular, however. It actually had a flowing spring, everywhere else in New Jersey and in most places in New York the water had to be pumped, poured from a faucet, or bought at a store!

New Jersey and New York Water supplies!!
The highest point in Jersey. I had enough energy to hike a half mile out of the way to see it, so obviously not THAT high!
  The valley between where I stood and the highest point in the state, with the monument, was a very easy walk, across many swamps and board walks. These valleys had glaciers in them, and the Trail was taking me by the very lasting effects. The lakes and carved valleys were unlike anything the Trail had so far passed.
The next day, across a hazy valley, I spotted the monument I had been at the base of the evening prior.
The last day in New Jersey was a trying one. The temperatures had slowly been racketing up since I had gotten back on the Trail. The climax happened the morning after I crossed the NY border.

Even at 7am the humidity and heat were uncomfortable. By noon, dangerous. On top of this water was scarce, I was down to my last liter, I didn't have far to go, on a normal day, to get water. But with this 100+ heat index I was stopping often and not drinking enough. 
Suddenly, off to the west, peals of thunder began rolling over me. The Trail was following a rocky crest of a long ridgeline. I kept hoping I would get a bit more shelter before the storm broke over me, the storm kept getting closer and the Trail kept exposing itself to the sky. The storm broke. The temperatures dropped 25 or 30 degrees, the thunder seemed like it was right over me, I had visions of getting struck, another hiker finding my body crisped! I headed to a very shallow valley right off the ridge that paralleled the ridge (i hoped) to the west. I hunkered down and hoped the rain would pass quickly. After 10 minutes I got tired and frustrated of sitting there. I was going to get wet anyway, so why not make forward progress? I followed the valley north, trying to catch glimpses of the AT blazes up above me on the exposed ridge. I felt safer under the dense tree cover, but it also meant that I was pushing through soggy undergrowth where there was no trail.
The Trail eventually dipped off the ridge and began following a safer, and easier route down into larger trees. I had gotten rained on before I was able to eat lunch. My food was in my pack, to get to it I would have to soak myself and everything in my pack as well. I trudged on, still recovering from the stress of the heat, probably a little dehydrated, and very hungry. If I had a "Send me the EFF home right now!!" button, I would have pressed it.
Ice Cream, however, cures everything! At NY17a I walked a mere .3 of a mile to Bellvale Farms ice cream shop. Soon after, Jonnie Walker Red, Claudia, and Animal showed up too. We sat there as the rain began clearing up. I ate several scopes and had a milk shake and re-filled my water bottles. Thus prepared I walked into the semi-clearing day. I saw my last bear of the trip, running off like his tail was on fire - number 14 on the bear list!
Animal caught up and we got to a split in the Trail. The AT goes up a rock face, a blue blaze goes around. The first time we got to such a juncture I climbed the dangerous slick rocks to get no view from a pile of rocks, only to climb back down less than 100 yards ahead. The next time I took the blue blaze, while the more-pure Animal clambered over. On the other side of the rock, I dropped my pack and climbed up nimbly and safely to see what there was to see. Sometimes the Trail routers are just evil to purists!
The following day Jonnie Walker Red and Johnny Walker Black hiked together. He was a nice guy, and it was interesting to see peoples faces when we explained we had the similar trail name and had known of each other for 1000 miles but hadn't met until now. We hiked through Harriman State Park, much like Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, I began to think this was how all of New York was going to be - incredibly gorgeous, filled with very novel sights. There were yellow-grass fields under a cathedral-like dome of trees. The boulders were house-sized and the dells were magic. Jonnie and I made good time, enjoying the talk. It's always nice to have a good conversation over the course of an entire day! We got pictures of each other approaching the Lemon Squeezer (and right after that, a much more challenging rock scramble).

As the day wore down, the sun came out and dried everything. We climbed one last mountain, wanting a few more miles closer to the Hudson River. We ended on Black Mountain (it seemed appropriate for me to stay there!) and my first and only view of the NYC skyline. The views down to and along the Hudson River were very nice. Jonnie, Nomad, and I eked out places to setup. Again, having the hammock helped so we were all able to get good spots. 
In the wee hours of the night the rain began and continued until morning. I woke very early, with the vague sound of someone else packing up close by. I packed everything, and with a lull in the rain, packed the tarp and headed out. The rain began falling harder again, and would rain off and on the rest of the hiking day... mostly on and heavy! 
I was hiking thru gorgeous forest, the rain making it more pretty. The sound of the rain drops on leaves giving a wonderful music to an already magical view. I felt closer to a hidden world of spirits than I had previously on this trip. I felt like forest spirits were dancing on the puddles and leaves causing ripples and nodding leaves. The Trail began its ascent on Bear Mountain, the beauty continuing, as the Trail rose up into the clouds. There would've been views of the mountains I had recently climbed, but instead I saw a wall of misty white. I was happy though, my rain gear was keeping me dry, the weather was good to hike in, turkeys and deer were out and about.
At the top of Bear Mountain, the rain falling harder than ever, I took brief shelter in a handicap porta-john to grab a snack. It was clean, so don't cringe!! I heard later that a few "ultra-lite" hikers had decided to send their tents home and rely solely on shelters had gotten here very late and, having no shelter for another 10 miles had to sleep in the same porta-john to get out of the rain!! And that's one reason ultra-lite just doesn't make sense to me!

I quickly descended the "most expensive mile" of the AT. Bear Mountain must have a huge budget, all the way down the north side of the mountain steps had been installed. The steps were each probably a ton, 6 feet long at least and 2 feet wide. The forest was still very beautiful, and the stone work was very beautiful  in its own way. At the bottom the Trail goes around a lake, and the place was empty, but on a nice day this place would be packed. The evidence of over-use everywhere. Piles of trash, bare-ground, blacktop trails, and graffiti. I was glad I had the place to myself. I got into the zoo that the Trail passes through. And despite the rain I looked at all the exhibits, read all the informational plaques and thoroughly enjoyed my hike thru a zoo - and the lowest point on the AT. It's all up hill from here!
I stayed in town that night at a very nice little inn just down the road that picked me up and dropped me off the next morning. The day dawned clear and nice as I crossed the Hudson on the Bear Mountain Bridge, affording me some awesome early morning views up the river.
However, after this, the same trick that happened in New Jersey happened in New York. The state got mundane again! The views disappeared and the forest became that of Virginia again. But for brief stints, the Trail is nearly identical from Georgia to Vermont. If I was plopped down, or shown a picture out into the forest of most of those states I would not be able to distinguish where it was. This was a bit frustrating, especially after being teased with spots that are so truly different. 
But, at least instead of getting frustrated too much now, I had stuff to look forward to! Like Jim (Flip) coming back out for a visit! He was set to arrive in a few days and meet me wherever I was at the time!


Thursday, September 20, 2012

Chapter 3 - High hot Summer in the Mid-States

Ahh Harper's Ferry! Here I was 80 miles north of where Cara picked me up. But I wasn't skipping a section, I was just dropping off my car before getting a shuttle to Front Royal to fill in a gap.

I had gone home for nearly a week to re-access my devotion to the Appalachian Trail. Did I really want to complete this journey? I was so close to finishing half of it, I might as well go back and do a week of hiking to Harper's Ferry and see how I feel, right? The more days I had been at home the more convinced I wanted to go back out. Not just for myself, but also for all the people that had heard me gush endlessly about how awesome the Trail is.
I made some changes to my gear, I plotted low mile days, and I had my car to walk back to - I had an easy out if I was still in a bad mental spot.
I brought a hammock and began sleeping in that, and would continue sleeping in a hammock comfortably and happily the rest of the trip. I slept more deeply off the ground, I didn't wake up nearly as much, I felt safer and more relaxed - possibly this was psychological, but whatever the case, it was a great boon to get good night sleep.
During this experimental week the temperatures sky-rocketed. There were some 105 heat index days. I would hike slowly and drink a ton of water, I went so far as to try to breathe only though my nose to conserve as much moisture as possible.
With the terrible memories of Shenandoah behind me I felt like I was entering a new chapter, a happier chapter - some kind of corner had been turned. There was still rain, humidity, heat, and bugs but I felt better armed. The hike to the Roller Coaster was easy, and the Roller Coaster was fun even in the extreme heat. I had hiked portions of this and it was fun to be walking down memory lane remembering that root and that rock.

Summer was upon me, not only was the heat crushing, in places the forest became jungle-like. That had been a problem in Shenandoah, as it is impossible to find a good camping spot in a jungle. Another advantage of a hammock is the ground doesn't need to be flat, just two trees 16 to 20 feet apart, relatively clear of brush in between. The campsites in Northern VA became nicer and more frequent, there was less over-use, the tent pads no longer muddy pits and plenty of stealth sites in-between. I still wasn't seeing too many other hikers, but more than I was previously. Right before the Roller Coaster began I decided to hike over a few hills before calling it a night - good thing I had as the shelter area had close to 30 people at it and I had a silent hill-top campsite to myself!

Time began speeding up again, the feeling of running through water departed. I passed the 1000 mile mark, I passed out of Virginia, I saw a bunch of Trail I had seen before, and drew closer and closer to Harper's Ferry! I sped down the hill and over the Shenandoah River into Harper's Ferry, I hiked in to the ATC headquarters to be photo graphed and numbered! In a few short days I felt huge leaps and bounds of progress where I had felt like I was making no progress at all just a week before. My heart was back in it, I wanted to see what was around the next corner again.
I took my car back home that weekend and had Cara drop me back off on Sunday. I had a lot of things to look forward to in the next few weeks. Cara was coming back out to see me in a couple weeks, my brother was meeting me on July 2nd to hike with me, my friend Jon was looking to meet up with me, and my birthday was rapidly approaching!

Southern Pennsylvania was great! The terrain is fantastic, and I have such fond memories of being here when I was a kid and I passed the real half way point! Additionally there were snack bars at the state parks I was passing through. I had some relatives come and pick me up from Caledonia and I stayed the night at their place, they also had gifts of dried fruits and beef jerky!

I could of pushed big miles and sailed through the state, but I was meeting my brother in Duncannon and so I was forced to do small days, sleep in start late and finish early! It was great. I could stop for long lunches, soak in the beauty, and talk with other hikers. I stopped at Pine Grove Furnace for several hours just shooting the breeze with some hikers. I made a friend with Animal, a great guy that carried a 5 Gallon bucket full of food in one hand all the way from Georgia! I would see him off and on all the way through CT.
Boiling Springs was achieved by crossing through a series of fields, and following a road into downtown. I talked to a guy there that was interested in sharing a room at the Allenberry Resort just up the road. Rooms were $40, split I could turn that down. The place turned out to be fantastic! All you can eat buffet, a playhouse, a pool, situated on a gorgeous river. This place really looks out for hikers and I will definitely be going back.

After the nice stay at the Allenberry I did a short hike to Carlisle and met with Cara, the heat had gone way up again, so the 9 miles in 100+ degree heat was draining, but the AC at the hotel room fantastic! The next day Cara and I did an out-and-back section hike. The bugs were miserable, flying in our eyes and ears and it wasn't fun dealing with them. I'd wished I could have taken her on a better hike, but there wasn't much around, the views were poor, and very hot. Mostly, though, when she came and visited I didn't want to hike! I wanted a day of rest!
I walked in the Doyle, famous for its good food and terrible accommodations and cheap booze. I picked up my drop box that was there and bought a round for the guys there... I wanted to get a round of Jonnie Walker, but alas, Jim Beam had to do! The town of Duncannon, so close to Harrisburg, had a desperate feel. The houses leaned on each other for support, decaying under the summer, the people hidden in the dilapidated homes. The Trail goes right through the town for almost a mile before crossing the Susquehanna, on the other side of town I came to a rough looking cement building, the place claimed to sell ice cream, and be a nude bar, just as seemingly desperate as the rest of the town.
The following day Kevin got dropped off by Jen to come and hike with me. He had plans to hike for a couple weeks, but left it open ended. He brought along Chloe, his dog, to accompany us. I love hiking with my brother, we always hike well together with a similar pace and good conversation. Despite the heat and the lack of views and the endless green tunnel I enjoyed myself immensely. It was so nice to watch 'Paws of Fury' (aka Chloe) wind her way through rocks, and see how well behaved she was while we hiked. We made good campsites, and dodged afternoon rain-storms. Kevin and Chloe had enough room to bunk with me under the tarp and hammock, so he was able to travel light too.

Chloe really knew how to be a hiker. If we took a break, she took a nap!
We spent the 4th of July at the 501 shelter, I had originally thought I would be there for my birthday - so despite 9 days off recently and going slow to sync up with Kevin I was still 9 days ahead of schedule! We went to a clearing that over looked a valley into eastern PA and watched the fireworks of locals and of the surrounding towns. That night Mother Nature gave us an even louder and more dramatic display by having a large lightning storm roll over! We slept in the shelter that night and stayed dry and safe. That was one of the few shelter stays I enjoyed and the last as well!
Sometimes PA was full of rocky trail, though more often it was not. There would be short sections as in the picture above followed by very long sections on old logging roads where we were able to cruise. We followed several very long ridges with little elevation deviation, which was quite nice. We dropped off one of these ridges into Port Clinton where we were to meet Jon Banks for a hotel stay. I went into Port Clinton to get a drop box... that wasn't there! Or maybe it was and they just couldn't find it. The box eventually was shipped back home and it arrived 2 days after I finished the Trail! Fortunately I had a buddy coming and we had wheels to go grocery shopping! My brother was developing some painfully blisters and decided to go home. He'd been out for a week, we'd done some awesome miles and had a lot of fun. I was going to really miss him as a hiking partner, but I understood he had an out and he was taking it!

Jon and I had a good relaxing weekend. He brought me a bottle of whiskey, he took us to Yuengling for a brewery tour, we had good food at nice restaurants, he dropped me off for a 6 mile slack pack, and went to Cabelas for provisions. He even carried my pack for me up to the Trail when he was dropping me off!
It was great and really nice of him to come see me. Having friends come visit buoys the spirit. The nights I'd stayed in the hotel with Jon a storm had come through. From inside it had seemed small, the clouds dark, and the rain hard but it didn't seem like much. The following day on the Trail there were trees down all over the place, including in the shelter areas over top of where people sometimes setup tents! I'm very glad no one got hurt that I heard about.

Back on the Trail on my own, very well rested, well fed and with a week of PA left; I was still waiting for the 'Rocks of Pennsylvania' to begin. I had heard so many horror stories, and past hikers crying how terrible it was that maybe I was expecting worse. Maybe since I had so many mental diversions I failed to become annoyed, but 3/4 of the state behind me I was still waiting for the rocks to begin! I was looking for them so hard, I did a blue blaze loop to a views and finally found the rocks! They aren't on the AT!!

The same day that I traversed the blue blaze where the rocks actually were I also went through a sections that had 17 miles without water. I went over a scoring cliff climb, the best views in PA, of the Super Fund (more like SUPER FUN SITE!) and followed an open ridge dripping with ripe berries to Wind Gap. Supposedly there was a hotel that allowed hikers to fill up their water bottles for free. Incorrect. The hotel claimed they had no tap water and one could by 8 oz of water for 1.25. Ouch. I'd been depending on that. Coming out of Wind Gap the rocks finally began. For the next 6 miles the Trail followed a literal river of rocks, every step painful. I had dreams of moving to Wind Gap and shuttling people around this terrible section. I had dreams of coming back and removing the rocks for future hikers. At the end of a very long strenuous hot day with no water in sight I finally got annoyed at Pennsylvaniaian rocks! But after that section they disappeared again and the Trail to Delaware Water Gap was pleasant.

Sometimes PA had a hint of New England
My boots, my constant companions for over 1500 miles finally gave up. DWG had two outfitters, both with small selections of footwear. I decided on getting the Solomon's and I made the right call! They treated my feet right the rest of the trip (unless they got water-logged, then they'd eat my feet alive).I still had a few days until my birthday weekend and I decided to make a few miles into New Jersey before getting a rental car and heading back to Hershey, PA to meet Cara. New Jersey was gorgeous to begin with, after getting beyond Sunfish Pond the ridgelines opened up with grasses and great views, and more BEARS!
The rocks in New Jersey were worse and more frequent than in PA. I wasn't sure how PA got the bad wrap?! After the Trail passed out of the DWG National Recreation Area, it became much more mundane, more green tunnel. But that was OK! It was a short state and in a couple days I'd be in NY! But first I jumped off the Trail for 3 days to go see Cara!