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!