Day 244: Shark wind!

Pogo Memorial Campsite [mile 2159.2; SOBO 1140.8]

I love that people memorialize their trail friends with campsites, bridges, monuments… not even counting all the dead people scattered up and down the trail, who probably weren’t all that into hiking but just happened to end up in the neighborhood. When I die, my hiking friends can dedicate a privy to me. Or a bench. A nice flat bench with a roof so hikers can eat lunch in the rain.

I’m kidding, of course. Pogo and the rest of the people immortalized on the trail have dedicated countless hours to it. They richly deserve their memorials, and I’m immeasurably grateful to all of them—and to all the people still working to build and maintain this stretch of magic. That’s why I’m happy to end at the ATC.

So. In the last few days, five people have addressed my overall low daily mileage. The last one is the one that grates: a local gentleman asked how long I’ve been out, and when I told him since March, he gaped.

“You’re a thru-hiker?” he asked incredulously.
“Yes, I am,” I said… and he laughed in my face.

Now, the guy clearly was a jerk. I’d picked that up already. But the implication was that anybody who started in March and is still out here is an idiot.

I don’t feel like an idiot. But I do feel the need to put a couple of things down in pixels, for posterity, as it were—even if it’s just my own posterity.

First, this hike stopped being about numbers a long time ago. It’s been about emotion and honesty (I hope) and exploration, about purging some lingering stuff and learning to be open to new things. It’s been a pilgrimage. I don’t believe we get to choose the shape of our pilgrimages.

Did I want to do a six-month hike? You bet! I was trying for five, expecting six, and prepared for seven. Eight was unexpected. (I don’t count the externally imposed two weeks when I had to wait for a vacancy at Katahdin Streams.)

It turned out that my body’s been more damaged by living than I’d realized. Fifteen years of martial arts: both knees are sore. I move like Frankenstein’s monster (probably not, but it feels that way). Every step on even a slightly bent knee has been painful—and as it turns out, the AT is all mountains! Who knew?

My feet are bad. My lungs are the worst; two decades of smoking. My lung capacity has never improved in eight months; uphill is still slow going.

All that added up to shorter days. After 12 to 15 miles I was cooked. Did I want to do more? You bet! And sometimes I did! But we work with what we’ve got. I’ve never been one to sprint, anyway. I’m more of an ‘outlast’ kind of person.

I’ve been invariably conservative. Hiking alone, I made sure to stop when I was certain I was safe. I could have managed longer days if it hadn’t been for the uncertainty about where I was going to sleep. I also didn’t hitchhike. Both of those issues would have been mitigated or eliminated if I’d been hiking with a partner or a group. But I wasn’t; 2186 miles, solo.

And there were other things. The journaling took time every day (not that I begrudge it, but that’s the reality). After Katahdin, with the time pressure off, I chose a November finish rather than pushing for October. In retrospect, that was a mistake, because I’m LOATHING these last few days of cold.

So, to the guy who asked me the other night why I wasn’t doing 30 miles a day, and to the guy who laughed at me a little while ago, I say: Frak you. It doesn’t matter whether the meat marinates for two hours or two and a quarter; in the end you’ve got the same roast.


OK, now that that’s off my chest, let me tell you about my last Tuesday on the trail!

It was cold!

Seriously, it was cold. I had crazy dreams all night about being cold. I couldn’t warm my hands up this morning at all, and that’s with getting up after dawn. I think it was the wind—hard and biting again, only this time it didn’t die overnight. It stayed windy all day. So even with the bright blue sky and the sun, I never took off my ski mittens or my bizarre collection of hats. Tomorrow I think I’ll bite the bullet and start hiking in my down jacket (my puffy) and possibly my down hood. At this point it can’t hurt, and if I start to sweat I’ll take them off.

Maryland was brutal today: all rocks and climbs. I think the SOBOs got the shaft a little with this stretch. All the uphills were steep and all the downhills were more gradual. The rocks were the same both ways, though. It’s just like Pennsylvania! A couple of times today the trail flattened out. Once I crossed some fields, and at the end of the day the terrain smoothed out a bit.

I’m hoping the mythical easy terrain of Maryland shows up soon. I have no idea how those guys muscle through this in a day.

This afternoon I met a SOBO section hiker. He started a week ago and he’s planning to go all the way to Springer, if he can. He doesn’t feel confident about the Smokies in January, though—and I told him he was wise to be nervous. His name was Broken Candle. I didn’t ask why, but I bet that’s a story! He asked about Shenandoah and bears and some other things, and it made me feel grizzled and experienced to be able to answer. But the most interesting was his pack. He said it weighs 45 to 50 pounds and it’s killing him; he can’t wait to get to Harpers Ferry and drop 10 pounds. I love that we all start the same. We begin with TOO MUCH WEIGHT then send home some insane amount after the first three or five or seven days.

Good luck, Broken Candle!

And to that nasty laughing local guy, who went on to tell me I should be in Harpers Ferry tomorow afternoon… No, jackass. I’ll do 10 a day for the next two days and seven on Friday so I can have a friend there with me at the finish and so I can hit the ATC straight from the trail and celebrate with them a little. Because it’s not about statistics. It’s about life.








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Day 243: T minus 4

Raven Rock Shelter [mile 2149.3; SOBO 1130.9]

Well, Waynesboro was an adorable little town—small city, actually. For Philly folks, it’s sort of a combo of West Philly and Ambler, but with a four-lane street down the middle. Big old houses, square facades, interesting shutters and woodwork, brick sidewalks, plenty of shops and places to eat. They’ve apparenently gotten grant money to refurbish and restore, and it’s paying off. The Burgundy B&B is awesome. Gorgeous place, and the owners know what hikers need.

Note for 14ers: I don’t know if this will be corrected or if it’s just a SOBO issue, but the Guide is messed up here. Waynesboro is actually five miles from the trail, and the map in the book called ‘Waynesboro’ is another town entirely—a town between Waynesboro and the trail. But David at the Burgundy House was happy to come get me and shuttle me to Walmart, except I didn’t need the Walmart run; there’s a Dollar General and a Turkey Hill convenience store within walking distance of the B&B. Which you’d know if you had a map of… you know. Waynesboro! Also, the Waynesburger restaurant makes an outstanding gyro.

So. On looking through the guide and after consultation with my ride home, I should be hitting the finish line at around 11:00 AM on Friday. After today’s experience with Maryland, I realize I could probably have finished on Wednesday afternoon. But this is good. Three gentle days into Harpers Ferry. Take it slow, ruminate, unwind… a bit of a cool-down. Literally, too; the weather was brisk today, but it’ll be Novemberish for the rest of the week. The easy days will mean I can stay in my cocoon until the sun’s up.

This morning started with my favorite breakfast: French toast! It’s actually not my most efficient hiking breakfast (two eggs, bacon, wheat toast, OJ), but it’s the one I like best. And I didn’t mind the carbs and sugar because I knew I was only doing a nero today: a pitiful five-mile stroll. Have to stretch this out to Friday somehow!

After breakfast David drove me back to the trail, and I said goodbye to the cutest Corgi dog in the WORLD (and I almost stole him!), and I set off walking.

It was windy today! Still is. That’s the last of the warm weather blowing out to sea, or wherever weather blows around here. But the sky was deep blue. It’s funny; as soon as I stepped into Maryland yesterday I started to see trees still clinging to their yellow leaves. I guess this wind will take care of that.

Funny. I didn’t feel like music today. I just wanted to walk and think.

Am I glad I did this hike? Yes, oh yes. It’s been so productive to step away for a while and remember how to breathe. Sort of like an eight-month retreat, a timeout from the standard hamsters that chew on my brain. I feel… recentered. I don’t know how long it’ll last once I get back into the hamster cage, but there are some plain and practical tips I’ve figured out for dealing with my everydays. Those will be unpacking for a long time, I think.

The silence has scrubbed me clean.

Anyway. The rocks didn’t end with Pennsylvania. Today had its fair share of them, plus somebody else’s share; there was a long boulder scramble that I guess is the first real one of those that you come to if you’re heading northbound.

Which brings up an interesting point, and something David mentioned. Maryland is the meat of the Four-State Challenge, in which intrepid thru-hikers touch four states (Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania) within a 24-hour period. It comes to 42 or 43 miles, plus the few miles on either end to get somewhere to camp. You hike all night.

I never looked into it much because I knew it was out of my wheelhouse, but David said the convolutions are amazing to see. Apparently most people nowadays do a zero beforehand in Harpers Ferry. They ship their pack ahead so they can slack it. Then when their clock starts, they dash across the river up to the Virginia state line, then start hoofing. That means they’re doing Maryland at night, right?

I don’t know how the rest of the state is, but I can’t imagine doing the bouldery bits at night, before you’ve had a chance to get your boulder legs under you in Pennsylvania.

David’s opinion is that it’s counterproductive. Most people collapse for one to two zeroes afterward, so their mileage is actually less than it would have been had they just hiked normally. Plus there’s the greatly increased risk of injury, and it apparently takes a toll on your body that takes a while to recover from.

Anyway, I find it fascinating. My point was to note that I’m in awe of anybody tackling those boulders at night. Good luck, Quad-Staters! Be careful!

After the boulders, the trail got easy peasy—hiker superhighway. The wind had even cleared away the leaves in spots. Aanndd… I got to my shelter by 1:00 in the afternoon. LOL. This week is going to be interesting. By which i mean… you know. Boring. As in many hours spent inside my tent.

Lucky for me, I enjoy that sort of thing!










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Day 242: Last town stop

Waynesboro, Pennsylvania [mile 2144.7; SOBO 1126.3]

One of the things I’m most looking forward to: being able to clean my glasses whenever I want to. In fact, not having my glasses be perpetually crusted and beslimed with mud, bits of leaves and bugs, snot, tears, rain, sweat, fog, creek splashes, grease, and the unnameable filth that comes with living outside in DIRT.

Why can’t I clean them anytime I want, you ask? Well, I can’t waste the water. The little mocrifiber cloths are disgusting after one use, and probably damp and smelly. The little foil-wrapped cleaners are weighty and precious. And all-in-all, it’s futile. So I only clean them when they have so much crap on them that they’re blocking my vision.

Anyway. Look! Video of my hike!

OK, not really. Paul Newman is prettier, and Luke is definitely cooler. Er… coolhander. On the other hand, it sort of felt that way at times! Still does. I’m not done yet.

I was up and out in the dark this morning. It wasn’t cold. In fact, it was too warm for puffiness of any kind, even on the pea gravel.

By the time it was light, I’d reached a picnic area and I ruthlessly tossed everything I could into a trash can. Notebook, extra ziplocks… everything. I don’t want to carry anything anymore, and there’s no longer any point in keeping stuff for later. There is no more later—which may be the weirdest feeling on earth.

This has been a long, strange trip.

The walking was easier after the dumping. The sun never came out: cool and gray, it was a bleak November day. The wind picked up eventually and it started to spit. I put my raingear on and marched my way south toward the Mason-Dixon line.

I saw some deer bounding through the woods. Bound, deer, bound! You’re safe today, since there’s no hunting on Sundays.

You know what supidly amuses me? I see a deer almost every morning, and I say, “Good morning, deer.” Then I cackle.

And… boom! There it was, the Mason-Dixon line. And I realized that Pennsylvania was finished! How huge is that?

Finished: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania.

Still to do: Maryland and West Virginia.

I’ll be back on the trail tomorrow morning and probably radio silent intil the end, given the sporadic signal and the fact that I need to save battery to triangulate with my ride. I’ll be finishing Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, and I’m betting Saturday. We won’t know until the fat lady sings.

Hold your breath and count to ten!

Oh! I also saw the ugliest and most beautiful spider that ever lived. It was dressed in blaze orange for hunters. Also, it was completely blind. The way it picked across the leaves was fascinating.

I’ll miss seeing bizarre nature. Also bizarre people, but that’s a whole other issue. 🙂











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Day 241: Slowly I turned, step by step, inch by inch…

Tumbling Run Shelters [mile 2136.1; SOBO 1117.7]

Say what they will about Pennsylvania (and I’ve heard a lot of complaints, mostly about the rocks, the snakes, the traffic noise, and the guns), they do have some of the cleanest and most hiker-friendly shelters on the trail. Some people argue that this is a bad thing (it’s not really hiking, it detracts from the natural environment, et cetera). One thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t take much to get hikers arguing. Rugged individualists with loudly expressed opinions! Particularly online!

This shelter is two shelters—one for snorers and one for non-snorers, lol. There are two picnic tables, clotheslines, a beautiful piped spring, and tent areas with benches and tables made of rounds of an old tree trunk. The tent areas, though… pea gravel! That doesn’t sound warm and toasty, but I bet it’s outstanding in the rain. Luckily I don’t think it’s supposed to be bitter tonight—and after last night’s run-in with the viley racist, whisky-swilling yahoos, I’m not anxious to brave another shelter on a weekend. Especially not one that’s close to a road. The trail has become a very different place from that merry, wacky, peace-love-hippyfest, moving circus that it used to be (and will be again come March and April).

Last night, despite the yahooness, staying in the shelter was a good call. It poured rain overnight. That shelter had two separate rooms; the yahoos stayed in theirs, so I had my own room. The rain on the tin roof woke me up. I thought a tree was dropping a massive bunch of acorns until it finally penetrated that it was raindrops.

I was up and out of there ridiculously early—on the trail at 6:00 on the dot. And… I walked!

For a long time, walking in the dark, I smelled bleach or ammonia—whatever it is that they used to use to wipe down a schoolroom after a kid had puked. You know that smell? I’m sure they use better smells now. Anyway, around 7:30 I got to Caledonia State Park and saw all the dumpsters lined up in a parking lot. It must have been dumpster-hosing day yesterday.

I’ve decided there’s nothing sadder than a park that’s closed for the winter. Desolate grills, picnic tables, fields, pavilions. But the bathroom was open, and I managed to get a little phone juice and fill up my water bottles and throw out my trash. And brush my teeth in a real sink! In fact, I was ten yards back on the trail when I realized I’d had the opportunity to brush my teeth without wasting any of my treated water, and I actually backtracked to do it. Some prices are worth paying.

The day was gorgeous—maybe one of the last really spectacular days of the year. It was about 55 or 60 degrees, blue sky, not much wind. The dayhikers and hunters were out in force. Backpackers, too; two bunches have stopped in to look at this shelter. I don’t know if either of them are staying.

The trail was uphill and rocky. Seriously, it seemed like it was all uphill all day, with a few boulder scrambles that were like a postcard from northerly parts. And my back was sore as hell again. I was stopping every quarter mile or half mile all day long. I think the pack is just shot. After this hike, my pack and my tent are both going into the trash. (Not really; I’ll keep ’em for spare parts. But they’re no longer usable for their intended purposes… much like just about every other piece of gear I’ve used, including six pairs of shoes. New gear! All new gear!) Also, I’m burning my clothes.

And that’s… well, that’s kind of that! No big events today. Just continuing to make my inexorable way to the finish line, I hope.

Tomorrow I’ll be in Waynesboro overnight to get my electronics charged. Then it’s radio silence until the last push is over, one way or another. Dun-dun-dunh!








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Day 240: Michaux Forest

Quarry Gap Shelter [mile 2123.0; SOBO 1105.5]

I usually don’t title journal entries with geographical names unless it’s some landmark situation. Today, though, I’m completely out of clever. These final days, particularly the post-traumatic cold, are just draining me. Do I look drained? Yes, I do! Pale and drainy.

Random: There are some things that I may never eat again, ever. Oreos. Cheese. Raisins. Chocolate chip cookies. Snickers. Nuts, especially peanuts. Clif Bars. Honestly, even the sight of a Clif Bar is starting to make my tummy flutter. Eight months of Oreos and Clif Bars. You know what would be repulsive? An Oreo-flavored Clif Bar.

So. I woke up early. My tent was frozen again, but not the water bottles. It’s the condensation; it wets the fly, the temp drops, and the fly freezes.

One more week! I can manage one more week!

I hit the trail at 6:26, and the day was unrelentingly… boring. Sad to say. A section hiker chided me yesterday for wearing headphones out here. I was like, “Dude, after 2100 miles the headphones are the only things keeping my head from exploding.” It’s just like the Oreos. Eventually you can get too much of even good things.

I walked all day, and the scenery didn’t change much. Michaux has some ups and downs. The trail had some rocky bits, but overall it was the same sort of hiker superhighway I’ve been seeing lately. Which is EXCELLENT. But I didn’t even take many pictures.

The sky was wan November, but there was no wind! Also excellent.

At the end of the day I got to this shelter… and woah. Creepy! There are flowerpots and decorations! It’s clean and wholesome! It’s nicer than my house! The tenting area was platforms, though. Platforms are cold, and I’m trying to work out this issue with my air mattress. So I decided to take a chance and sleep in the Stepford Shelter.

Chances don’t tend to work out. Two guys have showed up, and I’m not alone. They offered me whiskey. Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll try not to make too much noise when I pack out at the crack of dawn. They just asked me if they were going to be famous in my journal, lol. No, friendly hikers. Not very famous, I’m afraid.

And that’s it! Basically… I got nothin’.







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Day 239: 2100 and various halfways

Unstealthing I HAVE NO IDEA. Call it mile 2110.1 [SOBO 1091.7]

Either the trail guide’s a disaster for this section, or I walked past signs for two shelters without seeing them. I crossed roads that aren’t listed, or maybe they are, not to mention cabins, private drives, park boundaries… argh. And a little while ago, as I was getting ready to panic because it was 15 minutes until sundown and I couldn’t find a place to pitch, I passed a big landmark that you’d think would be mentioned. I’ll get to that shortly.

This may be the longest entry ever, if my battery and my fingers hold out, so go. Grab tea. And maybe a cookie. Settle in; I’ll wait.

OK, we set? Good!

I woke up this morning to frozen water bottles and a frozen tent.

My friend Connie (hi, Connie!) texted me last night that people are worried that it’s too cold for me to be out. If you’re worried, that’s so nice of you! But it’s OK, honestly. If you go back and look at Day 1, you’ll see what the weather was like on Springer Mountain. That snow and ice and blistering cold persisted for all of March and into April. The Smokies were a skating rink. Winter Storm Virgil. Record-breaking cold temperatures.

Right now it’s in the upper twenties at night, maybe even low thirties. I had a lot of practice back in March and April. The temperatures I’m dealing with now are enough to make me complain, but not nearly as bad as I practiced with. And my winter sleep setup is excellent. I’m warm all night. The only time I’m really unhappy is in the morning when I have to transition from toasty to glacial.

So let me give you a hug for worrying and reassure you that it’s fine. The temps are going to warm up in the next few days, and it’s only for another week anyway.

So. That said… FROZEN WATER. I knew the tent was frozen because I looked up and saw the ice crystals on the fly. I didn’t realize the water was frozen until an hour later when I went to brush my teeth. (One of the tricks I’ve picked up recently is to wait a couple of hours to brush my teeth. It keeps my hands from having to touch ice water before they’re good and warm. So if you see me out here first thing in the morning, stay far away. It’s for your own good.)

So I packed up, miserable as usual. (I said I was fine; I didn’t say I was going to stop complaining.)

And I walked. I walked as fast and as hard as my Lurch-like body could manage, mostly because my hands and feet were blocks of ice. When I checked my book I realized that yesterday’s short day had an unexpected bonus: I was two miles from a deli. Hot food! Hot coffee! Unfrozen liquid!

I made it to the deli and drank a quart of orange juice and ate a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich outside at a picnic table that was covered with frost. Surreal. Then I got a coffee. They had a decent selection of the big resupply items, and I asked if they happened to have those little Hot Hands packs. They carry them for hunters, apparently, but not yet. It’s still not winter. So that was a bust, but all the rest of it was AWESOME. (I wouldn’t normally be so indulgent as to carry Hot Hands, because of the weight, but this close to the end I was willing to take the hit.)

Then… back to the trail. Everything was covered with frost, like it was made of candy. Spun sugar. A spun sugar forest, spun sugar weeds, spun sugar rocks. Unfortunately, I had to walk in it. The good news is that the trail today was more or less a series of hiker superhighways—smooth and even. There were some climbs (especially the unexpected beast at the end of the day), but mostly without too many rocks. The leaves continue to be my worst enemy; one of the infinite ankle rolls has aggravated an old injury, so now I’ve got a very sore ankle to add into the mix. Fortunately, it only hurts mildly while I’m hiking. The real tenderness happens when I take my shoes off. It’s manageable. If I gave you the litany of physical issues I’m working with now, after eight months of this idiocy, you’d be sore just reading it.

Aaannnyyyhhhoooo… It was a nice day! There’s still a period in the middle of the days, usually around lunchtime, where the sun warms things up and it’s pleasant walking. I love that slice of the day. It’s starting later and ending earlier all the time, though.

I had lunch on a big rock until loud gunfire from down in the valley drove me away. Getting shot would be a sucky way not to finish.

After that… I walked! And eventually I came to the amazing Pine Grove Furnace state park. It was closed, of course—empty parking lots, drinking fountains covered in trash bags. Zombie land. But one bathroom was open, so I used that and filled up my water bottles. I got to throw my trash out, which is always a huge treat.

I came to the Appalachian Tral Museum. (Hi, Earthtone!) What a beautiful place. I’m coming back as soon as they open in the spring. Field trip, anybody?

Then… dun-dun-dunh… the general store, home of the Half-Gallon Challenge! Thru-hikers eat a half-gallon of ice cream to celebrate being halfway done. Now, I did a private Half-Gallon Challenge between my two halves; I ate four pints of Ben and Jerry’s in two days. But there I was, at a deserted Pine Grove General Store, and the moment had to be commemorated!

The general store was closed, of course. But look! A soda machine! I decided I’d go a little crazy and do… the 12-Ounce Challenge!

So I hitched up my pants and sauntered to the Coke machine. I slowly fed in my dollar and watched while the machine spat out the instrument of my potential doom. Would I be able to finish? Would I puke?

The first six ounces were no trouble at all. It had been a long day of walking and I was thirsty. The trouble came during the second half. The bubbles, the excitement… I started to slow down. For a minute it was touch and go; then boom! I swallowed the last few drops in the can.

I didn’t even use a spoon.

The sugar must have gone to my head, because after that is where the directional issues started. It was late when I got to the general store, and I had something like four miles before the next shelter. And the sun was already getting low.

So I walked. I walked uphill as hard as I could. Then the trail flattened out, and there it was: a giant halfway sign with flags and a register. Except as far as I could tell, the halfway point is after the shelter.

There was nowhere to camp; the weeds and brambles were too thick. The sun was setting fast. I had no idea where I was. I walked a little farther, and spotted this flattish place. There was a campfire ring here, even though the site’s tiny. It’ll do just fine!

I got the tent pitched (it was still frozen). I’ll sleep, and tomorrow I’ll try to figure out where I am. My guess: That’s not the current halfway point, but a monument from some previous year. And I think I’m just a tenth of a mile from the shelter I was aiming for. It’ll all come out in the wash.

And that’s that! Oh, except for one thing: Happy 2100!














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Day 238: Brrrrr

Unstealthing [mile 2095.5; SOBO 1077.1]

That place I stayed last night was a little wacky—packs outside (which I detest), and a late breakfast. In retrospect, I should have said no thanks on the breakfast, but it all turned out OK. I had to shuttle my gear down in piles and pack it up outside (20-something degrees!), and I ended up with a very late start. But there I was! What can you do? Sometimes you eat the trail, sometimes the trail eats you.

OK, mostly the trail eats you.

This was a cold day. Cold as in little piles of snow at the bases of the trees at 1:00 in the afternoon. Cold as in ice in curled leaves like little teacups. And tonight’s supposed to be frigid, but I’m already warm in my puffiness. Tonight I’ll give the mattress a few pumps right before lights-out. (The mat’s fine, by the way; I checked it overnight.)

On the way out of town this morning I stuck my head into the Appalachian Trail Conservancy regional headquarters just to say thank you to them. On the way out, I promptly tripped down the single step outside the door. D’oh! Short time! Everything feels jinx-worthy!

The first couple of miles were more flatlands and cornfields, which I love! But then the trail remembered it was supposed to be in the mountains, and the rest of the day was a series of hard ups and hard downs while the wind blew ferociously. I fell once—skidded on leaves on a downhill slope. It was all OK, though. Phew.

There were rock mazes today. On a warm summer day near the halfway point, those probably would have been fun. Today, in the cold, with my full boatload of food, I just looked at the rocks and said, “Really, trail? Rock mazes? Really?” They were still amusing, though; just a little bit of ruggedness.

The day was sunny, too, which was a blessing. At least it looked warm!

One milestone: The halfway point of the original trail. That was pretty cool!

And that’s that. I’m boring today. No cows, no Doylesque horror. Just rocks and snow and walking.

Tomorrow: Walking! (And, knock wood, my last hundred-mile milestone.)










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Day 237: Boiling Springs

Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania [mile 2087.4; SOBO 1069.0]

Sooooo tired. Tired, and also warm and showered and in a soft bed, because I’m indoors again, baybee!

The temperatures tonight are taking a dive, and at the end of the day I was in town. Bingo!

Last night, the box did its job. I slept until about 4:00 AM, when I woke up and realized my air mattress had deflated to the point that my hip was resting on the cold, hard wood.

I don’t think I have a leak. Air mattresses have the obvious issue that they can get leaks. In fact, they probably will. I’ve had to ditch two bad ones on this hike. But the other disadvantage, which nobody talks much about (probably because it’s a winter issue and most people are too smart to be out here in the winter), is that they’re not constant. Their volume changes depending on the air outside, just like a car’s tires. Three times now, I’ve realized during the night that my downmat was no longer completely puffed up. If it had been midnight last night, I would have pumped it up again; but it was an hour before wakeup time, and the wind was screeching, and I just sucked it up until 5:00.

Then I got up and realized there was snow on the ground.

I’m glad I was in the shelter.

I eventually got out of there. The snow and rain had stopped, but my shoes were wet almost immediately, and even my raingear couldn’t quite keep that wind out. Thank you, Miles Davis!

Still, today was one of my favorite walks. Flat as a pancake, almost rock-free, through farm fields, alongside little rivers…. There were bridges and boardwalks and roads. Early this morning I saw three deer swimming across a river. I’ve never seen deer swimming! They seemed pretty good at it, and they bounded up on the far bank with typical grace and strength. I wondered if they were cold.

Later in the day something funny happened: I was chased by cows. The trail goes right through pastures sometimes. I’ve learned to pretend that it doesn’t make me nervous. So this time I stopped when the trail came closest to the cows, and I took my pictures of the five or six of them, then I kept walking. About ten paces later, I looked over my shoulder, and they were following me. At a trot! They were bumping into one another to get closer. I think they thought I had food for them.

I walked faster. And when I looked ahead for the way out of the pasture, there were THIRTY cows… and they were starting to trot right for me. It was a giant cow mob, and they were out for blood. Human blood.

It was a bovine nightmare! Would they get to me before I jumped the fence?

No! Score one for humanity! I climbed the ladder and turned and shook my sticks at those crazy chasing cows! And them I took more pictures.

Maybe they weren’t iPhone fans.

After The Nightmare on Cow Street, I walked! It was cold and windy and sunny, and I walked. And eventually I ended up in Boiling Springs, and here I am.

I had a big bowl of ravioli at the local Italian joint, where the waitress was incredibly friendly and said she loved my hair. Lol. Then I hoofed a mile to the grocery store. By that point, I was beat. Beat. I was dreading walking back to town with groceries, when a random lady in the store asked me if I wanted a ride back. Trail angel! She picks up hikers, and takes them into her house sometimes, and feeds them. Margo, her name is. Thank you so much, Margo!

Margo and Grace, her 9-month-old lab puppy, drove me right to my B&B.

And here I am. I wish I could stay in Boiling Springs for another day or two, but a hiker’s gotta hike. I’m on a schedule!














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Day 236: The Snowman Cometh

Darlington Shelter [mile 2073.1; SOBO 1054.7]

Darlington Shelter! And by ‘shelter,’ I don’t mean ‘in my tent in the general shelter area’; for the first time in a LONG time, I’m actually in the shelter.

I don’t stay in shelters for many, many reasons. They’re colder than my tent. They’re dirtier than my tent. There are no mice in my tent. Nobody in my tent but me is snoring and farting. I don’t bother other people when I set a 5:00 alarm in my tent. When my air mattress crinkles in my tent, nobody’s sleep is disturbed. I’m not forced to be uncomfortably intimate with strangers in my tent. I can change my clothes and check for ticks in my tent. I can use my indoor plumbing in my tent. If I’m tired I can go to sleep in my tent without having to socialize. I feel marginally safer as a solo femle hiker in a tent. The list goes on!

But there’s one time when being in a shelter makes sense to me, and that’s tonight. Wind (30 mph) and snow and light rain after midnight. There’s nobody else in the shelter. And the shelter has bunks, so there aren’t any cracks underneath me for the wind to gust up.

I hung my footprint like a curtain, for a bit of a windbreak and to reduce the cubic footage my body has to heat. Tomorrow I won’t have to pack up a wet tent in the rain and snow.

Did I mention that I’m alone in the shelter? If somebody else were here, I’d still be in the tent, most likely. Or if there weren’t bunks.

Anyhoo. I survived my night at THE DOYLE. I didn’t hear anything go bump the night. I didn’t sleep well, though—just a couple of hours. It was mostly because of the fear I couldn’t shake, that I was lying in a bed full of lice or fleas. Iew.

The one thing I can say about the Doyle is that it has heaters that work! But get this: They’re old-fashioned gas heaters with pilot lights and open flames in every room. That’s right. Little boxes of fire in all those decrepit rooms. I’m kind of astonished that that giant hulk of dry rot hasn’t exploded.

So I woke up and had breakfast at the strange little diner across the street where a line of old men at the counter stared at me while I ate delicious French toast. I think the fact that I dyed my hair magenta for Halloween isn’t sitting too well with some of the more set-in-their-ways towns.

I hit the trail around 8:00, and had a steep rocky climb back up onto the ridge. The sky was watercolor blue again. I thought it was going to be a warm day and I had to peel off some layers, but don’t you know, it was raw up on the ridgeline and I had to put them on again.

I want to bastardize Willie Nelson and write new lyrics: On the Ridge Again.

So, it was a rocky uphill morning. Then eventually it turned into a less rocky, downhill sort of afternoon. And the crowning glory: toward late afternoon, the trail crossed some farm fields that felt like the old grassy balds down south—but green and not icy.

I was whipped by the end of the day. I had a nice chat with a section hiker named Mailman who said I’d be home for a couple of months recovering, then my feet would start to twitch again. Not another thru-hike, I assured him. And I’d have to sell my house, if the bank doesn’t take it first! 😉

But if i win the lottery, I’m definitely doing the Te Araroa.

And that’s that! The next 24 hours should be interesting, weather wise. Also the privy here is enormous and is called the Taj Mahal. Porcupines have been eating it. Maybe I’ll see another one! Porcupine, that is; I assume I’ll see more privies.











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Day 235: The Doyle

Duncannon, Pennsylvania [mile 2061.6; SOBO 1043.4]

OH MY GOD. I was originally going to do a Dungeon versus Doyle cagematch post, but the Doyle is huge! Monolithic! It needs a post all its own.

Let me get the daily minutia out of the way first. And then I can get to THE DOYLE. It should always be spoken of thusly, in giant capital letters. THE DOYLE. The infamous, infamous Doyle.

So I woke up and it was surprisingly unwindy. Still a little windy, but the forecast yesterday made it sound like Oz was coming. Of course, by the time these forecasts apply I’m usually in the next ZIP code, so they’re always a moving target.

Sleeping for twelve hours a night certainly helps. I don’t have anything else to do in my tent now that I’ve finished my book and it’s dark at 5:00 PM. Luckily I’ve never been one to balk at twelve puny hours of sleep.

I woke up this morning before 5:00 even without the alarm, and I packed up and hit the trail well before dawn. I didn’t check, but I’m guessing it was 6ish. Aaannnddd… I walked. The walking this morning was as rocky and cliffy as anything I’ve seen lately. It was a ridgewalk; the trail kept cresting the spine of the mountain and crossing down one side then the other—and on both sides was the Susquehanna.

Man. I’ve had the privilege of walking across some mighty rivers, but the Susquehanna is the king of them. It’s the Moosilauke of rivers—old and vast and majestic. At one point early I reached a cliff and looked out; the sun was rising scarlet over the mountains off to the left, and there, about a billion miles away, was the Filmore Tidings bridge on 95. (That’s the name of that bridge, right?) It was a shivery moment. Next time you’re driving down 95 toward Baltimore, glance to your right and look up at the mountains; the ghost of me, today, will be there looking back at you. I blew you a kiss.

After the rocky bits, the trail started a fairly steep descent. Switchbacks, slippery leaves, scree underneath… it was slow going. I passed a group of trail maintainers heading upward, and I thanked them profusely for their hard work. What they’re doing is a gift to all of us.

Then… Duncannon! Pennsylvania’s own trail town!

First there was a long walk through a typical working class suburban neighborhood. But this town is run down. A lot of the trail towns are mostly for sale, but Duncannon’s for sale, boarded up, and overgrown; there’s trash blowing in the streets. Some of the buildings are fire-wracked hulks that nobody bothered to rebuild. Porches falling down, houses gone lopsided from flooded foundations—this place is like a zombie town.

And then there’s the Doyle.

The Doyle is an old hotel that rents rooms to hikers for the princely sum of $25 a night—about what you’d pay for a room in a hostel. You hear about the infamous Doyle as soon as you start researching the trail, and the name reverberates up and down the trail like some kind of horrified drumbeat. It’s supposed to be the worst place on the trail to stay (not counting the Dungeon at Lake of the Clouds, which actually IS the worst place to stay). Legendarily bad. As in disgusting. Except with good food, go figure, and incredible friendliness toward hikers.

So of course I had to stay here. How can you not have that experience? LOL.

There’s also a little restaurant on the first floor and a taproom, if you’re into that sort of thing. Let me tell you—I’ve slept in some massively disgusting shelters on this trip, and none of them had a restaurant downstairs. A restaurant which, I might add, made the best cheeseburger I’ve eaten in 2050 miles, and I’ve eaten a LOT of cheeseburgers.

The Doyle. This is a magnificent building. It was built in 1905, just a few years before the Titanic. The architecture and woodwork are amazing. Think about it: cars were new, the streets were wide, for wagons… there was even a fountain out front for horses to drink from. This place has seen swing and jazz and big band. It’s seen two world wars, a depression, and the 60s. And it feels like the Overlook. I swear, walking up that central staircase I could hear big band music and bar fights. It feels haunted. It remembers.

And it should have been condemned about fifty years ago; hence the reputation.

The place is falling apart. Exposed beams, rotten plaster, repair after repair after repair stacked on top of one another, all of them as insufficient as a finger to plug a hole in a dam. Mold and rust and rot and ruin.

It smells of hundred-year-old tobacco. There’s an ancient bloodsmear on the shredded rag of a doily on my splintered wreck of a dresser. I won’t put my clothes on the chair because who knows what those unspeakable stains are?

And I might sleep with the light on.

The Doyle! It just makes me cackle! I’m so glad I stayed here. And even gladder that it’s just for one night.

And get this. A few minutes ago, a knock on my door: flipflopper Gumby, whom I’d met in Glencliff! They wondered if I was the one next door.They saw the 2000 at Eagles Nest and were also overjoyed. Gumby got tick-bit a few days ago and had to go to a clinic. He and his wife Cricket now have a car with them and wanted to give me their number in case I need anything. (One of them drives the car ahead in the morning and parks it, then they hike in opposite directions all day.)

The trail pulse keeps on beating.

Twelve more days, give or take.

Note: Because of the juice issue and because I’m back in the wilderness, sort of, with a signal that flicks in and out, I’m back to updating from town. I might stay in Boiling Springs; if not, I probably won’t be able to update until Waynesboro next weekend.











Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 20 Comments

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