Monthly Archives: October 2013

Day 225: Ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties

Unstealthed a little shy of Bake Oven Knob [mile 1957.4; SOBO 939]

The only trouble wih unstealthing is that I’m never entrely sure where I am. Last night I was a little short of where I thought I was, so I think the mileage today was OK, particularly given the weather and the terrain.

Today’s theme song, in honor of the superfund site: Razor Skyline— Corporation [you’ll have to YouTube it if you want to hear it, alas]

So last night was mischief night. Nobody toilet papered my tent overnight. But who am I kidding? I’ve turned into such hiker trash that if they had, I would have been all Woah! Free toilet paper!

I couldn’t manage a 5 AM wakeup, but I managed it at 6—and I managed it by plugging into my iPod before I even put on my glasses. And let me tell you, that thing was on ALL DAY. Just tunes, not radio.

Aside: A couple of people have asked me what kind of music I like. I can’t really answer because what I listen to is freakish and eclectic. But here’s a Halloweenish mini playlist right from the iPod, if you’re curious. I can’t get links, but YouTube will have the songs.

Crüxshadows: Monsters
Omnia: Twa Corbiez
Omnia: The Well
Sharron Kraus: The Horn Dance
Dar Williams: Flinty Kind of Woman
Boiled in Lead: Silver Carp
RHPS: Time Warp

Anyhoo! I was up at 6:00 and it was raining and windy windy windy. By the time I opened the tent flap to leave, it was light out; but when I crawled out I realized that the brightness was just thick fog reflecting on the fallen golden leaves. The fog! It set a creepy tone for the day that’s carried all the way through.

I got to see some of the superfund site today. Talk about creepy. That place is blighted. Dead’grass the color of ash. Dead wood. Dead, dead, dead. It really does look like Mordor in spots.

Somebody built a teepee up there. Coming out of the fog, the whole scene felt surreal. Horror-show otherworldly.

Eventually the trail got back to being trail-like: a wide road between increasingly rocky banks of weeds and high grasses and small trees. Then bam! I finally came to that descent I’ve been dreading since last October.

I was hoping that Maine might have made this less scary, but it was still intimidating: a vertical descent down the side of a cliff. But what Maine did for me is make me just sigh and grab rocks and keep moving. The fog helped, too: I couldn’t quite see how far down it was.

When I got near the bottom the rain started. It never really stopped for the rest of the day. Also, I didn’t see any animals today! They were too smart to be out.

After I crossed the Lehigh River there was a climb on the other side. I was sitting on a rock at one point, taking a break, when three hikers came down the hill. One of them was having a birthday, and their traditional celebration is to bike ten miles, hike ten miles, and kayak ten miles. OK, maybe it’s only the biking that’s a full ten. But it’s their own little iron man tradition. And it beats the hell out of my tradition of eating an angel’s food cake and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s.

Guess what? They saw the Barefoot Sisters the year they hiked! (The Barefoot Sisters are these famous… um… sisters, who hiked the AT… um… barefoot! Counterintuitive, I know.) These were the first people who didn’t ask if I was hiking quote-unquote all by myself. No, they had questions like “So how many pairs of shoes have you gone through?” Fun guys! I was all bundled up like a whale, and they were in shorts. Happy birthday, birthday guy!

After that it was just walking. Rocky, rocky walking in the rain and fog. I crossed one more boulder field, and the rain picked up. Right about then I passed a campsite and without even thinking about it I was pitching the tent. I think I had it up in under five minutes. I just wanted to be warm and dry, and here I am.

Hey, local peeps! Tomorrow I cross 309! How cool is THAT? (309 is near where I live.) Also tomorrow: the Knife Edge, another bit of rockfoolery I’ve been dreading for a year. But whatcha gonna do? Gotta keep moving; it’s the only way to get this puppy finished.

I should still be OK schedule-wise. I won’t be able to zero in Hamburg, but I’ll make lists and try to get it all done in one afternoon.

Happy Halloween (or Samhain, if that’s your cauldron of tea!) If anything knocks on my tent door, I’m not answering!

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Day 224: Radioactive

Unstealthing [mile 1948.4; SOBO 930]

OK. I need to stop wallowing in the morning.

This morning every molecule in my body rebelled and I could not get out in the dark. Even after I was dressed, I kept sighing and curling up again. I’m like some giant reluctant cat. I finally forced myself to pack up by reminding myself that by the time I got outside the tent it would be light; that got me moving at around 7:00 (still pitch dark) and on the trail at the ungodly late hour of 8:15.

That’s really late! And indeed, I’ve ended up with a low-mileage day thanks to my sloth and the slow rocks of Pennsylvania.

Also, the weather is changing. The morning was gray and overcast (felt like snow, in fact). Eventually the sun came out, but it’s a wan sun that didn’t warm the air, and the wind has been biting all day.

In my early-morning fight with myself I discovered another enemy: silence. Not the earplug thing. I mean the silence of isolation. At 5:00 AM it’s 30 degrees, it’s black as pitch, and there are no human voices. I wanted to be able to turn on a television and let it blather in the background. (I actually don’t have TV service at home, so I don’t know where that came from.) I actually grabbed the iPod and found myself scanning for Philadelphia radio stations. I found a bunch. Just ten seconds of the sports talk guys was enough to make me realize how badly I just want contact with home things. Wake up, turn on lights, drink coffee, turn on internet radio, check the computer….

I turned off the radio immediately. One, I don’t have the battery to burn, and two, there are too many miles left to permit that kind of nostalgia.

Tomorrow I’m setting an alarm.

Not that it matters all that much. I’ll be bottlenecked in Hamburg in a few days for an overnight to charge my electronics, and I may give my feet a rock-free zero. I’ll see how it goes.

So! Rocks, as predicted! Mostly toybox rocks, but toward the afternoon I came across one of the massive boulder crawls I’ll be scrambling over for the next week or so.

Also… poison ivy, trail? Really? You ‘re going to make me watch for this in November?

They can say what they want about PA, but the signage is the best of any state I’ve seen. Big and readable and at a good height. It’s often too high in some states; for example, in Maine I kept walking under signs without even seeing them (until backtracking) because they were about ten feet up. AT hikers are rarely looking up. In Connecticut the signs were a lovely shade of sage that rendered them mostly invisible. It wasn’t until New York that any of the streets had labels, but New York didn’t have any signage except at very major points. Shenandoah did a good job: the signs were posts set into the ground. That makes sense, because AT hikers are looking down. 🙂 Anyway, PA signage: big and bold.

I’m currently near the Superfund site—some sort of toxic waste dump that’s been under some kind of salvage program for years. It’s like the Morgul Vale after the War of the Ring. The AT is diverted around it.

I hope there’s water at the Outerbridge Shelter tomorrow morning. Because, as everybody knows, you can’t drink the water flowing out of the Morgul Vale! But flowing in is OK.

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Day 223: The toybox

Stealthing, sort of. I have no idea where. Let’s call it mile 1938.4 [SOBO 920]

I say I’m sort of stealthing, but I’m not really stealthing because dispersed camping is permitted here! I totally forgot that. In Pennsylvania it’s legal to camp along the trail for a night as long as your entry point is different from your exit point. And there are various other reasonable rules along the way. Where I am now, you have to camp within fifty feet of the trail. I like that! It means I won’t lose the trail through my overly clever sneaking around!

Of course, the trail here is ON state game lands. You stick close to the trail so you don’t get shot. I’m not really too nervous about getting shot, knock wood. Nobody wants to shoot a hiker (well, maybe they want to, but they won’t); the paperwork’s just too much of a hassle.

The morning’s are a little easier since I’ve given myself permission to start later (ie, in the cold, but not an hour before daylight). This morning I was packing my tent up at 7:00 and I needed my headlamp. Holy crap, right? I can’t wait for the weekend, when standard time starts again. I’ll be back to hiking at 6:00 and the dawn will just be brightening the trail.

I actually started hiking at 7:24 today. Decadent! I was only a couple of miles from a road crossing; the road led a mile to a little town called Wind Gap. I’d decided to schlep down there—grab breakfast, coffee, water, a couple of days of food. Good call on the water; I didn’t pass a single good water source today. Of course, carrying eight freaking pounds of water is killing me. But I digress!

Wind Gap was a cute little town! For my homies, it reminded me of Glenside: sprawling and near some big roads. I didn’t go all the way into town; I got what I needed at a Turkey Hill minimart. The breakfast sandwich was like a bacon, egg, and cheese salt lick.

Then I schlepped back up the hill a mile (did I mention the eight freaking pounds of water?). I watched a cop on the highway give somebody a ticket. All the cars were slowing down because of the flashing blue lights, so it took some time to get across. Then boom! Uphill.

Towns are generally in gaps and notches. There’s a climb down into them, then a climb up out of them. This one wasn’t bad. I did have to stop hree or four times because of the pack weight, and also to peel off various layers of clothing.

The day was blue and breezy and in the fifties—par for the course lately. I’ve been so blessed with weather. It’s cold in the mornings (30ish), but honestly, I could have run into snow by now.

The trail never did match yesterday’s superhighway. Too rocky. I’m not going to call them misery rocks anymore; I’m going to call them toybox rocks. I was email chatting with Blackbird today and said the terrain here alternates between a dirt sidewalk and walking barefoot across a demented child’s toyroom buried in leaves. It’s like you’re stepping on Tonka trucks and Barbies and all manner of oddly sharp things that your feet just roll painfully off of.

Toybox rocks sounds a lot more fun than misery rocks. Jedi mind trick!

I didn’t make the progress today that I made yesterday. Those rocks make for slow going.

Toward the end of the day I was sitting on a log and a NOBO passed me! Thistle, her trail name was. She started March 3 with Beerdra, who I know. Beerdra’s finished. Thistle got off trail in Palmerton two months ago, but when she was home she couldn’t get the trail out of her head so she came back to finish at least up to New York. That’s what happens if you have to get off the trail: it haunts you. Inchworm told me that; not the missing Inchworm, but the other one, the one on TJ who I met at Unicoi Gap.

Anyway, there’s still a little trail life around. You still meet somebody once in a while, like Thistle. It’s spread thin, but Trail 2013 ain’t dead yet. Not quite. Not while I’m still out here, anyway. 🙂

It was almost 4:00 when I stopped. I was going to push on until 5:00, but I couldn’t for the life of me think of a reason why, not when there was this long stretch of flat, relatively unrocky ground just begging me to set up my tent. Who knows what the ground’s going to look like in a mile? I’ll let you know tomorrow.

Tomorrow: Superfund trailhead! AT landmark!

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Day 222: The shape of things to come

Stealthing [mile 1926.4; SOBO 908]

Room 222. Remember that show? Actually… I don’t much, either.

Latest gear woes: My beloved homemade water holsters; one of them is, alas, deceased. They were both held together with duct tape at this point anyway. It’s not critical, but it means I probably have to carry a liter of water inside my pack, which doesn’t thrill and delight me. (Have I also mentioned that one of the fliplocks on one of my poles is now failing repeatedly, multiple times per day? I think that’s a quick tightening job with a screwdriver, but I seem to have left my ultralight screwdriver at home. Anyway, just another symptom of the marathon hike. Things breaking down.)

Water’s supposed to be scarce to nil for at least the next hundred miles. I’m nervous. Also, I’m carrying three liters now. That’s seven extra pounds of water weight. That’s like carrying an elephant.

Enough of the unpleasant stuff. Let’s get to Pennsylvania!

I woke up pretty early in my sleezy motel and went to the local diner for breakfast. What a bunch of characters were in there! The owner, the waitress, and some regulars bantering about everything from big band music to local hauntings. They love hikers in there. The owner gave me a bottle of water (which I was happy to add to my growing bottle collection).

I sat in the diner until 7:00 or so, when the sky was just turning pale, then I hit the trail.

You know, people have been giving me dire warnings about the climb up out of the Water Gap (including as recently as yesterday, when a 1999 thru-hiker told me he didn’t envy me going southbound out of there). And you know what? It simply never materialized. I’m starting to wonder if they’re talking about the Superfund trailhead, which I don’t hit for a day or two. Or if the videos I’ve seen were actually another trail in the Water Gap Area. I don’t know. But the trail today meandered upward, mostly gently.

There were rhododendrons; those felt like long-lost friends. The sky was wan blue and a breeze was blowing, but the day was warmer than it has been.

Which is probably why at around 10:00 AM, after crossing under a powerline in a field of shoulder-high grass, I found a couple of deer ticks climbing up my pants. At least, I think they were deer ticks. They were small. Not tiny, so not the nymphs; but smaller than regular wood ticks. It seems late and cold for baby wood ticks; so I chalked them up to adult deer ticks.

I’m not panicking. I wish I could have permethrined my clothes one last time, but hikers survived for years before there was permethrin just bu using common sense and checking for ticks all day long. I check for ticks a LOT. If I bump up against a blade of grass, I check my legs. That’s how I found the two today; tick check. So I’ll keep on checking and crossing my fingers. Three more weeks or so!

After Tickville… hiker superhighway! For a couple of hours the trail was flat and wide—an old roadbed, I think. I was actually thinking I’d get as far as Wind Gap and have yet another night indoors. But then the trail smacked me upside the head for that silly thought, as it is wont to do: the famous Pennsylvania rocks started.

I waxed on about the Pennsylvania rocks early in this journal and posted four or five pictures of the various types. Today I had a boulder scramble over Wolf Rocks, which was surprisingly more fun than I remembered for that kind of rockiness. Slowish, but fun.

But then the misery rocks started. Those are the ones that range in size from softballs to basketballs. Take all those balls, sharpen them up, add spikes, fill the trail with them, half bury them in the dirt, then cover them with leaves. Your feet get chewed to hell from stepping on sharp edges, and you roll your ankles about fifty times a day.

Yeah. I remember those.

The quickest way through the rocky parts is to keep moving! One step at a time. Eventually I’ll have covered the hundred miles of Rocksylvania and I’ll be in the smooth last stretch of PA.

About an hour ago a family of deer crossed the trail right in front of me. A herd? They seemed insufficiently numerous to be a herd; maybe seven or eight. A pod? I’ll call them a pod, just like whales! Anyway, they were slower than usual and not overly panicked to see me. They just watched me a while then went on their way.

And that’s the day. I’m stealthed not far from the trail; in PA, I’d rather be seen by a ridgerunner (if we have them) than NOT seen by a hunter.

Tomorrow: Breakfast in Wind Gap and a quick errand or two, then rocks. And, oh… some walking.

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Day 221: Finally… PENNSYLVANIA

Delaware Water Gap [mile 1915; SOBO 896.6]

I’m in Pennsylvania! I’m in Pennsylvania! I’ve never been so excited to be in Pennsylvania!

It’s a little deceptive, granted. If this were a movie, I’d get closer and closer and closer, until I arrived at my house in triumph! In triumph!

But this isn’t a movie, and the shape of it is this: I approach the orbit of my house for about a week, then I’m within about an hour for a day or so, then (so sad) I start drifting away. I drift toward Harrisburg and beyond, and finally to the Maryland border.

But after that… the end!

So I woke up early at the MOC and had to wait around for breakfast. My feet were itching to get walking; the waiting is tough. But breakfast was worth it, and it was nice to spend a last bit of time with the orienteering workshop students I met at dinner last night. What a great bunch of people. Plus, they’re all handy with maps! 🙂

Then… the walking! It was another day on the ridgeline, bright and sunny and cool. The biggest problem today was wind. It kept blowing my hat off. And it was one of those too hot/too cold days. Up on the ridge, too cold, pull on the jacket. Ten feet lower, too hot, take off the jacket. Jacket on, jacket off.

I eventually hit Sunfish Pond, which was weird because I hiked there before—back in 2004 when I was first getting serious about the AT. There were rock sculptures; that was odd, having now seen the ones in Vermont.

At one point the trail turned to a slate sidewalk, and I had a strange feeling, what I call ‘When-I-get-to-the-Whites-itis.’ I’ll think, I wonder if the Whites will be like this, and I’ll get that little burst of fear. And a split second later, I realize I’ve already done the Whites. I’ve already done most of the trail.

Eventually the trail turned downhill. Somehow I lost track of where I was. I thought there was a problem with the book for a while. My feet were starting to throb—break-in day for shoe pair number six. I wanted to get there, get done!

There were dozens of dayhikers out today (at the Water Gap parking lot there must have been forty cars). I asked one of them how far we were from the parking area, and he said two or three miles. WHAT? I thought I was under a mile. I found myself hoping those were dayhiker miles (so, like, a half mile) versus thru-hiker miles (so, like, six miles). It turned out it was almost exactly two.

And there I was. At the choked parking lot at the Delaware Water Gap, just the width of the Delaware between me and Pennsylvania.

I crossed the bridge while the wind tried to snatch my hat and beat me to death with it. The river seemed too small down there, compared with the mammoth it becomes down around Philly.

And here I am—possibly the last indoor night until home. But we’ll see about that. There are still a few weeks to go.

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Day 220: Hiker superhighway. Oh, and 1900, baby!

Mohican Outdoor Center [mile 1904.2; SOBO 885.8]
Miles to go: 281.7

First of all… I love the MOC! Honestly, having seen the huts in the Whites, this is a MUCH better deal. Look! Electricity! A hot shower! Kitchens and microwaves and plumbing!

Ahem. Yes, I’m still in the woods. But as I said to someone, if at the end of the day there happens to be a cheap motel or a hostel or a handy outdoor center with bunkrooms right there, I’m going to be hard pressed not to sleep in it. I hope to be inside tomorrow night, too. At a different location. At a location in Pennsylvania. Although that’s probably it for a while—maybe until the end.

My stomach’s feeling better today, which is excellent. Every time I get a little stomach distress (which is fairly frequently, particularly when I’m doing my resupply in 7-11s), I immediately think I’ve finally gotten Giardia. And who knows? Maybe I’m harboring some bugs. But they stayed put today, more or less.

The other piece of good news was that I handled the cold much better thanks to a Jedi mind trick and some actual gear tweaking. (The tweaking never ends.) For the gear, I decided that if I wore everything to bed, then in the morning when I took some off, I’d freeze. Logical, right? So I actually wore fewer clothes to bed. I didn’t wear my fleece, and I didn’t wear my pants over my Thermasilks. Then this morning I took off my puffy pants and pulled on my hiking pants and my rain pants over the Thermasilks. I took off my puffy jacket and put on my fleece and my rain jacket. My hands still got icy, but overall it was a much better morning. And I was peeling layers off by 9:00. So that tells me that basically my pants aren’t warm enough. But all I need is something dry to sleep in—for instance, lightweight flannel PJ bottoms for under the puffies. Something nontechnical that I can get hopefully anyplace.

The Jedi mind trick was this: I didn’t take my earplugs out.

My earplugs aren’t hardcore. They keep me from having to listen to a hundred squirrels rustle throuh the leaves, but I’ll hear something big like a deer or a bear. They keep out the little noises. Well, in the morning it’s usually a shock to the system when I pull them out; it lets reality crash right back in on me. Including the wind.

So this morning I was lying there and I thought Eff it. I don’t want to hear the wind this morning. So I left them in, and don’t you know, I wasn’t as cold? It was just as brisk and windy all day, but I left those suckers in right up to the time I was peeling off the layers of clothes. (Yes, I could still hear the gunfire in the distance.)

Cool, huh?

So it was a pretty mundane day of walking. Some areas were densely rocky (preview of things to come), but for the most part it was hiker superhighway today. Sunny, windy, cool. I passed probably twenty dayhikers and weekenders, and they were all snugged up in their fleeces and hats and gloves.

There were some great views today, pretty autumn hills in cornucopia colors, seen from above. For most of the day the trail traveled along ridges. This afternoon, particularly, it clung to the edge of a mountain and marched across some cliff faces that must seem like a taste of what’s coming if you’re NOBO. Hint: It is!

At some point today I hit 1900 miles. Wow. That’s a lot of miles, innit? It really feels like a lot of miles today.

I’d decided at the day’s start to stop at the MOC tonight after fourteen miles. My shoes are here! My very last pair of shoes (at least I hope so).

I’m ensconced in my bunkroom. I’m all alone here for now, although a party of four is supposed to be arriving later; they’re in the next room. I have my earplugs. 🙂

Shortly I’ll be heading up to the lodge for dinner. I decided to get breakfast tomorrow, too, although it’s not until 8:00, which kills me. But if I hit the trail at 9:00, I should be OK. I only have to go eleven miles tomorrow to the Delaware Water Gap (although I have to resupply when I get there; I’m planning to stay the night somewhere).

You know what’s going to be creepy? Being on the trail on Halloween!

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Day 219: Winter?

Brink Road Shelter [mile 1890.2; SOBO 871.8]

I don’t get it. Things are happening with the weather and my body that are baffling. Case in point: I’m FREEZING. I’m freezing all the time. So I just clicked my GPS on and did an actual temperature check: 53 degrees. How can this be? It’s 53, not March in the Smokies! And I actually feel as miserable as I did then. I think. The memory grows fuzzy.

The only thing I can think is that it’s an issue of body fat.

That said, these mornings in the 20s have become brutal, particularly with regard to my hands. I’m not sure how to fix it, but I’ll try some things. I’ll bite the bullet and wear my long john bottoms under my pants. That leaves me without dry pants for tentwear, but I have my puffy pants and no rain is forecast. I just have to be careful about sweating. I may have to pick up a pair of heavier pants (my March pants were heavier; these are silkweight) or another baselayer to compensate for the loss of body fat. I hate to spend money on clothes I’m going to grow out of, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to get anything until Hamburg in a couple of weeks anyway, but we’ll see. Maybe even just a pair of panty hose from the CVS; that’s an old trick that might work. If only panty hose weren’t so revoltingly uncomfortable.

I’d also start picking up Hot Hands, despite the weight, if I could get them every four days or so.

The other issue I’m having is gastrointestinal. Either I’ve picked up a bug, or the recent increase in town food has fouled up my digestive process. I think that over the course of a super-long hike, you need to keep your nutrition on a leash. I haven’t, because who expects their hike to go super long? Nobody! So I may have put some extra stress on my food-processing equipment, and I may be paying the price now. When I get home, that little piece of readjustment should be interesting. By which I mean potentially disgusting.

So. I woke up at dark o’clock and once again couldn’t pry myself out from under the quilt until 6:00. It was so bitter cold (mid 20s, I think), or FELT so bitter cold, that I couldn’t even face getting my hands wet to brush my teeth. I went unbrushed. I hope my dentist isn’t reading this.

But worse—the cold feeling was so miserable that I just cried while I packed up my camp. I’m running out of tissues. If I’m going to continue to sob about how rotten I feel, I’d better come up with a contingency plan for snot.

The day was cold and windy and gray again. Remember the bleak brown from down south? The forests are starting to look a bit like that: bare boles in a mud-brown landscape. Full circle.

The walking was mostly easyish, except for the rocks and the damned leaves! The leaves! The morning started with a ridgewalk to a picnic pavilion with a view it was too windy to enjoy. It looked Roman. A Roman villa. The guide says camping is prohibited there, but I can’t help but think that people do it anyway.

After that, a long descent, and I got to the infamous Joe to Go at around noon.

I owe Tony’s Deli a mea culpa. It’s not Tony who’s the Soup Nazi; it’s Joe! Look, they even share a vowel.

Yeah. Joe. He has his way of doing things, that’s for sure. But he quipped a little. He said he could get to Harpers Ferry in two days. And he made me a fabulous sandwich. So there it is. Joe to Go: two thumbs up. But for gods’ sake, make sure you leave your pack on the side of the building!

After Joe’s, another climb and another ridgewalk. I got as far as this shelter. They’ve just built a brand new one; I’m down here warm in my tent, though.

Tomorrow: the Mohican Outdoor Center. That’s the plan, trail permitting!

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Day 218: Today SUCKS

Stealthing [mile 1878.8; SOBO 860.4]

There. I said it. No cute title, no application of perspective; just suck, suck, suck, a veritable sucking morass of suck. Not because the day lacked magic, mind you; but the frigid wind was relentless. I’m so cold I can’t stand it, and if it continues into next week, this might be the deal breaker. But I think the wind is supposed to die down tonight and the temperature’s supposed to go up by ten degrees (at night, at least).

When I woke up in the pitch dark it was freezing. (Half-full: There were no ants.) I mean it was so freezing that in the headlamp my breath was blowing like I was smoking a cigarette. And I realized one of the great truths of my existence: I can get up in the pitch dark at 5:00 AM, I can get up when it’s 20 degrees in my tent, but I cannot get up when it’s dark and 20 degrees.

Couldn’t do it. I was awake, more or less, but I couldn’t muster the willpower to throw back the quilt until after 6:00 AM—when I’m usually stuffing the tent into the pack and getting ready to start walking.

This meant a late start. (Half-full: Well, I must have needed the sleep, right? Also, I got to start hiking in the daylight, yay!) I crunched my way through the frost-covered leaves for a couple of miles. The wind was ferocious. Even with my raingear on, it just chewed its way right to my skin. I didn’t ever really get warm all day.

At around 8:45 I got to the park office for High Point State Park. The bathroom was inside and they didn’t open until 9.00. I begrudged that time and didn’t really have to pee, but then it occurred to me that it’d be nice just to get into the warmth even for five minutes. Yeah, I thought. That’d be worth it.

So I waited. Good decision! The next hour or two turned out to be the highlights of the day.

While I was waiting, two other hikers showed up. They had the grizzly thru-hiker look, which I’ve missed seeing. Turns out they’re fellow flippers. Their hike will finish in Duncannon, Pennsylvania in two weeks or a little less. It was so nice to feel grubby and comfortable with hikers again. No explanations, no eyebrow raising at some of the ridiculous behaviors that long-distance hikers eventually adopt. (Looking in the trash can? Plugging your phone into the wall? Using the bathroom hand dryer six times because it’s warm?) Little Buddy and Sassy Bear were their trail names. They’re already ahead of me, of course! I wish them a joyous finish and a safe journey home.

While we were waiting for the door to open, who should appear but a trail angel. Snorz, his name is, and he’s read some bits and pieces of this journal. (If you see this, Snorz, thank you again!) Snorz had a lot of great information about this neck of the woods, and he’s a good friend to hikers out in this neck of the woods. And best of all, he drove me to the deli, where I got coffee for me and Little Buddy, plus a danish. Yum!

The park office was amazingly welcoming. They had sodas for thru-hikers, donated by a local group. They had a trash can for thru-hikers, which was fabulous. (You want to help a long-distance hiker? Offer to take their trash!) And there was a hiker box. I’ve been a little worried sbout getting to the MOC, so I nearly grabbed some ramen (which are disgusting when rehydrated in ice water). Then I realized it was panic shopping and I put it back.

Remember Tie-Dye from Rutland? I think I mentioned her; I met her on a bus. Apparently she flipped and she’s a day or two behind me.

Eventually after all that, I hit the trail. It was still blustery and cold. And the whole rest of the morning was a massive ridgewalk—meaning walking along the top edge of a mountain while the wind tears at you. No amount of sunshine today was enough to make me comfortable. And at some point or other, my blaze orange winter hat must have gotten tangled in my hood and blown away. It’s gone and I didn’t notice until I was pitching my tent.

Suckitude!

To make a long story short, at around 3:00 PM, I was done. My stomach hurts (I took something for that), I have a sore throat, and I can’t get warm! I decided I needed to get out of the wind. (My body fat’s low right now, so I’m extra vigilant about the Big H.)

I was going to camp near the next shelter, but I decided one of my hard and fast rules is not to sleep anyplace that has underwear on the roof.

So I stealth-pitched my tent and got into my puffy wardrobe (including the down balaclava, which I haven’t worn yet up here), and here I am.

My head’s buried under the quilt as I type, like a kid reading by flashlight. I may never come out of here! Not til spring, anyway. And I guess it’ll be another late start tomorrow.

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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 11 Comments

Day 217: Down on the boardwalk

High Point Shelter [mile 1870.6; SOBO 852.2]

So last night I got thirsty. It was the middle of the night. I unzipped and reached outside the tent for one of my water bottles without putting on my glasses—which is a hassle, what with the finding the bag, opening the bag blind, fishing for the glasses case, pushing them on under the headbands and hats and headlamp, etc. I happened to reach for the bottle that had had an inch of Gatorade in it when I filled it.

I brought it into the tent and put it down and zipped the tent and went for a drink and saw something moving: an ant on the floor of the tent. Then another ant. Then another ant. I went through the rigamarole of getting the glasses and realized, finally, that the Gatorade bottle must have been covered with ants. Which were now crawling all over the inside of my tent.

ARGH.

They were everywhere! I put the bottle outside then spent a quarter hour in an ant frenzy, finding them and tossing them out of the tent.

I hate ants. Once I woke up in a bed full of ants. Twice I’ve walked into my kitchen to find the place covered with a million ants like an army invasion. A wisewoman once told me that ants mean patience; if you have an encounter with them, the universe is teling you to be more patient. I don’t know. I think sometimes the universe is telling you to shovel ants out the tent door.

When I woke up in the frigid air this morning, I found a couple of frozen bodies, but that was it. I packed up as fast as I could manage, given that every fiber of my being wanted to stay under the covers forever.

It was a cold, gray morning, but dawn filled the sky with muted pink and pale blue. I reached a wildlife preserve (which always seems to mean ‘birds,’ more or less) and watched the day melt the frost off the cattails and tangled swamp grass. The vast pool to the left was filled eith honking geese. I wondered why they all honk at once; seems like a one-on-one system would work better.

After that came a long roadwalk, then the decision: skip Unionville, or walk the 7/10 mile for breakfast. My food was still a little short and I’d made great progress early, so I decided to sprint in.

Good decision! I had a breakfast sandwich and coffee, then made it back to the trail with enough time that come noon, I was slipping down the driveway to the top-secret shelter that everybody knows about.

Another milestone!

The ‘shelter’ is actually a tiny cabin owned by a hiker and trail angel named Jim. The property has a well, a privy, and a shower… not to mention electricity, which is why I have enough juice to upload some entries at the moment. And donkeys! Two actual donkeys!

Horselike objects scare the crap out of me, but Jim took me back and introduced me to the donkeys. They’re two brothers. One’s named Republican, and the other’s Democrat. I have no idea how Jim tells them apart. Cute! I even petted one… right up to the point where Jim said “He might test you by taking a little nip at you. It won’t hurt.” Shades of trail dogs! No; these guys had bigger teeth.

Anyway, thank you, Jim, for being so generous with your space!

After that, the weather took a downturn. The temperature dropped steadily and the sky turned severe. By the time I got the tent pitched, it was spitting icy rain.

And here I am! Winter is back. And so is nighttime.

In 45 miles, I’ll be crossing into Pennsylvania. Trail willing.

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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 19 Comments

Day 216: Turn that frown upside-down

Pochuck Mountain Shelter [mile 1858.2; SOBO 839.8]

It’s getting bitter! Tonight it’ll hit the mid-30s, and the next two will drop to the mid-20s. Brrrr. I’ll be fine at night. It’s the waking up at dark o’clock and having to roll out that’s the killer. Never again will I take for granted my programmable thermostat that warms up my house in the morning.

Today started badly. I was in a crappy funk from minute one, and I’m not sure why. I think it’s because I knew I had to do a short day, and at this late stage that feels like a disastrous failure.

Staying at Greenwood Lake syncopated my schedule. The shelters and camping areas are unevenly spaced, and the stop put me between them. And stealthing hasn’t been reliable because of the swamps and populated areas. To get back on the shelter schedule, I had to do a short day today. Then tomorrow I needed to resupply, which meant tomorrow could end up short, too.

Fail!

But after the first couple of miles I pulled out the guide and realized there was a deli-slash-market 1.1 miles from the trail. That was the alternative—resupply today on the short day when I had time to burn. Eureka!

It was a gamble. Sometimes “market” doesn’t mean what you think. Once it was an upscale farm market that only sold meat. (I have no stove and no refrigerator, and meat is heavy!) Often it’s a euphemism for a gas station that sells beer and cigarettes and a couple of candy bars. And a mile is a lot of steps to waste on a failure.

Turns out? Not a failure!

The market was actually a dingy little place on a pick-your-own farm. But they made me a delicious Western omelette sandwich and coffee, and I managed to score enough miscellaneous food to get me to the Mohican! Cheese and crackers, some junk.

But get this. Yesterday three SOBOs went through there. I know who those guys are, although I haven’t met them yet. I’ve been a day or two behind them for the last week or two, and I keep hearing stories about them.

They’d picked up a maildrop at the post office next door. It had too much food in it, so they left it in the deli as a hiker box. I was able to supplement my cheese and crackers with some other stuff, and now I’m in great shape. Tomorrow I can skip Unionville and try for a longer day. Huzzah!

A landmark today: the big boardwalk through the swamp. I’ve been waiting to see that for over a year! It’s a mile long. In the middle is a suspension bridge. Looking down, I was dumbstruck at the thought of how high that water must get to warrant a bridge that tall.

And that’s it! Tomorrow: winter.

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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 6 Comments

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