Posts Tagged With: journal

The reentry issue

Well… it’s been a week and a day or two since I walked off the trail. I’ve needed at least that long to process what I’ve been feeling into anything approaching English. My brain has been wrapped in cotton—in warm, soft, ‘Cotton kills!’ cotton.

I’m calling people by the wrong names, even though I know perfectly well who they are. My brain has felt as though it’s sluggishly building new pathways to all the endpoints I used to know how to manage on autopilot.

Last Saturday my family took me out for breakfast to a local diner—nothing fancy, just five of us, all adults. Sure, I’ve been eating in diners since March. The number of diner eggs I’ve eaten could actually make an omelet big enough to feed a marching band. But this time it was weird. It was a diner I used to know so very well…. Or maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Maybe I should start with Friday night.

I took a shower on Friday night. The pipes actually screamed when the hot water ran through them for the first time in months. I couldn’t remember the order of things: soap, shampoo. Then later, toothpaste, floss. The full-size toothbrush felt like I was holding a broom. How the hell do you brush your teeth with a broom?

The house was full of alien smells.

The heat hadn’t been on for months. I flipped it on and immediately filled the place with the scent of burning dust. Which, you know, usually happens. Let me tell you, I wallowed in that warmth. After my hot hot hot shower, I got between the flannel sheets and I dragged pillows all around me, and I wore pajamas that were way too big… and I lay there. I couldn’t sleep.

I live on a bus route. Bus noises. Sirens. Moans and rattles from the heat. House noises. Motorcycles. Screeches. Shouting outside. Underneath me, a mattress that stayed put instead of slipping around on the tent floor. I couldn’t see my breath. When I rolled over, my quilt didn’t puddle on the ground and leave me exposed. When I reached out a hand, I didn’t touch mesh; I touched nothing. Void. Vacuum. It was unsettling. I felt unanchored.

Plus the emotional reaction. Or lack of reaction. This momentous day, this… event. And I had no sort of feeling about it at all. I felt zombified.

So guess what happened after all this! How did the un-trail smite me? At breakfast on Saturday I got a migraine headache.

Hello, migraine! I blame the heat, actually; sleeping indoors in the dust and mold and mites and whatever else creeps around an old damp house, when my sinuses had gotten used to nothing but net. It wasn’t a bad migraine (well, as varying values of ‘unbad’ migraines go), but it was enough to sideline me Saturday, more or less.

For the next few days I literally couldn’t sit still. I had gear to unpack. I had eight months of mail to read. I had finances to figure out. Problems to solve. Stacks and stacks of… things, of objects, of situations to manage. Car and house and phone calls and computers to update (172 Windows updates on two computers!). Lightbulbs to change. Leaks to manage. I couldn’t remember how to do things like use the washing machine; every minute of every day was spent figuring things out as though I were discovering them for the first time. I needed food in the house. I hadn’t driven in months. There was trash in my backyard. At some point, I’d had a massive flood in the basement and I had to futz with the dryer.

I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I own this many pairs of pants. I don’t need more than one pair. Seriously, I only have two legs.

But cotton socks are soft, and my big giant padded coat is excessive and amazing. But when I saw the moose on my LL Bean flannel sheets, I started to cry, and I touched them with a fingertip. I was sad because they weren’t real moose. I cried a lot this week. Not raw crying, but I’d find my eyes welling up at odd moments. They’re welling up while I type. The hike has put me more in touch with my emotions, and I find I’m okay with that.

There was a hawk in my city backyard this week, up in a tree. That made me realize that my days of observing minute wildlife have come to an end for now. No more blind orb weaver spiders, no more grouse hiding in trees being stupid and still, no more bears jumping over downed trees to get away from me, no deer wading rivers. No more me wading rivers. (That last one’s actually not a bad thing.)

It’s been a very rough week. Very rough. But at this point I’ve done everything once, I think. Including Thanksgiving, wherein I ate until I was ready to puke. My cutoff switch for appetite had come back by Thursday. A week ago, I would have been able to eat a lot more. Continuously, in fact. In fact, let’s face it, I’d still be eating.

Oh! So yeah. I ran around and ran around and ran around and couldn’t seem to sit still, until I realized I was doing all that running around to avoid processing the facts that 1) I just did an enormous thing, a thing I’ve been obsessing over for four decades, and 2) it’s over.

It’s over.

Wednesday was the worst day. That day I finally forced myself to stay in my pajamas (my trail Thermasilks!) all day and relax. Breathe. And in the breathing and relaxing and stillness (or, more appropriately, while mindlessly streaming episodes of Breaking Bad, which I haven’t seen), I finally actually let the reality in a little. All the realities, but mostly the doneness of it all. It’s done. I still don’t know how to feel about that, but at least I took the first step toward… comprehension.

On Thursday morning (Thanksgiving!), I finally was able to start making lists. Lists of house jobs I have to tackle, room by room. Lists of life jobs. Lists of food I need to buy, healthier stuff so I can try to keep some of the weight off. Lists of scary things I have to do. Call the plumber. Lists of tiny things I have to do. Go through the gear. Finish unpacking. Throw out the shoes (which was so, so hard).

Friday I started poking at work. (I work for myself and I have two jobs starting on Monday, but the work is already here.) I sat at the computer for a while and just cruised around looking for backpacking destinations and shorter trips—backcountry places I can visit when the weather’s warmer. I made a long list of those.

Then, gods help me, yesterday I started looking into the PCT. I’ve been swearing up, down, and sideways that I’d never do another thru-hike. I probably won’t. But… I don’t know. I’d still like to be able to finish a thru without flipping. I’d still like to get better at this distance thing, even if I took two seasons to do one of the longer trails. There are new systems and better methods that I want to try. I’ve never really been interested in the PCT in general, but you know, there’s this sense of inevitability. Like, what else are you going to do? I wonder how many long-distance hikers drift inexorably to a second trail just because the first one got so deep in their blood that it became part of their hemoglobin? It chews at you, the trail. It chews at you even though it’s hard and miserable and unpleasant for chunks of every day.

Anyway, I even went so far as to work out the financials for a PCT hike, and I couldn’t possibly manage it for about seven to ten years (short of a another karmic miracle), so there’s no hurry. And in the meantime, there are whole skill sets I need to work on. Winter hiking—I mean, actual winter hiking with an ice axe and crampons. In snow and on icy mountains. High-elevation hiking. Better, stronger, lighter hiking; changing my mindset, picking away at the parts of it that still want to be camping instead of walking. I need to take an orienteering class; the PCT would require that I actually learn how to use a map. I’m blessed to live close enough to the Mohican Outdoor Center that I might be able to get some hands-on instruction instead of just muddling through on research or reinventing the wheel by trial and error.

There are gear things I want to play with. I never did experiment much with stoves, despite having four or five of them here. And I’m not sold on my sleep system (despite the fact that it got me through a lot of tough weather). And raingear. I need to accustom myself to a one-person shelter, which is a giant leap for me. When all’s said and done, my total number of backpacking trips is still one. And that one was enough to show me that the amount of learning I still have to do is vast. I’m still listening hard to hikers who’ve gone out again and again and again, for years. They know what they’re doing, and I want to eat their brains. That’s the good kind of zombie.

And in the meantime, there’s day hiking. Walking. Thinking. Working. Living. Reading. Writing.

As far as journaling goes, obviously, the hike is finished. I might keep the blog active, though, just to keep a record of whatever hiking I’m doing, whatever practice I’m getting, whatever skills I’m learning, whatever fun I’m having. I don’t know. My hiking life is a work in progress. So feel free to unsubscribe! 🙂 I won’t be writing a lot of entries, no matter how it goes. Certainly not more than one a week or one a month, unless I’m on a trip. Who knows? I guess it depends on how my AT lessons unpack over time. If there are late-blooming epiphanies, I imagine I’ll write a little about them.

And in the meantime, one step at a time.

Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 30 Comments

The day of reckoning

I woke up in my chill little tent for the last time, on a rainy Friday morning. Rainy, of course—because the trail doesn’t want you to end easy. Every day out there is hard. This one was hard and special, though. Special. I was up and out in no time at all, despite the rain. The last time.

The last time to fight with the zippers. The last time to check the water bottles for ice. The last time for everything. For everything. The enormity of it kept washing over me. Indescribable.

At least it was warm—warm enough, anyway, that I didn’t need gloves. I could have shoved my wet tent into my pack, but it seemed… disrespectful, after all that time. Poor Big Agnes. She went to the wall. I packed her up as though I’d need her again that night.

The sun was peeking over the distant mountain, just a horizontal slit of crimson under the gray clouds. It was gone quickly enough, leaving just the gray, and that was perfect, was perfect, because the day felt solemn. Seven miles to the finish line. I couldn’t even listen to music. I just wanted to be—to listen, to smell, to feel, to be present and alive for those seven miles. I felt like I was squeezing the whole hike into those three or so hours.

First the woods: the typical brown on brown, but the rain brought out that odd ammonia smell again. There were birds, more birds than lately. A bluejay clung to a tree and peeked around it at me. There were bugs. It warmed up as the trail descended, and eventually I had to take off the rain gear. It wasn’t actively raining anymore; just threatening.

Before I knew it I was out of the hills and down in the flats. A three-mile walk between the river and the canal, that green-slimed mudway that must have been hell, mosquito-wise, in the summer. I found a little green marble in the dirt, like a bird’s egg made of emerald.

Hot and cold. Hot and cold. I kept taking clothes off and putting them on. Seven miles. Three miles.

One mile.

The canal ended at a staircase that went up to a footbridge, and don’t you know, it was one of those metal staircases that you can see through—just like the firetowers that I don’t climb because they tweak my fear of heights. I had to practice Lamaze and denial to get up there, but I did. I did. And I crossed the river and into West Virginia, and boom! Harpers Ferry, familiar Harpers Ferry, exactly at the edge of it I’d touched in July, and I knew I was almost done.

I still stopped at a trash can to throw things out. A hiker can’t pass up a trash can, even for something momentous. In this case, I dumped my water bottles, my toothbrush, my lunch, everything that was disposable and not nailed down, and also my actual trash.

I followed the white blazes to the street and spotted my friend coming toward me, and that was fantastic. We chatted and caught up a little, but I’ve gotta tell you, at that point I was reluctant to finish. The thought was actually a little nauseating. You can only delay so long, though. And we walked.

That last little part was high on a cliff over the river. Rocks, and river, and gray skies, and psychedelically painted crack houses and weird sculptures and a dayhiker and the sound of the train and traffic across the river and and and and and. Telescoping reality. Telescoping surreality.

And then we were there. We were there and I took the last step, and my feet crossed the place they’d been before, and the world stopped. It was done. It was done, and I was done, I was done the WHOLE FREAKING TRAIL. I didn’t know whether to smile or cry or throw up or some odd combination. I felt so much that I felt nothing specific, just a general chaos of thought and emotion. And a vast desire to get to the ATC headquarters and do some fist bumping.

On the way through Harpers Ferry, we ran into Broken Candle again. He dropped twelve pounds of pack weight and looked great. Good luck, Broken Candle! The trail never stops. The circus just keeps moving. People finish, people start. Everything overlaps in this odd eternal, wacky present.

At the ATC, the volunteers have a little celebration with people who finish there. We drank grape juice and toasted and took pictures and laughed, and that’s when it really started to hit me, I think. This thing, 40 years in the making and two years in the planning, and forever in the execution.

But there it was: 2185.9 miles. All of it. Springer, Katahdin, all the points in between. Six pairs of shoes. Winter to winter. Two time changes. Three porcupines, one rattlesnake, and a kitten. And you.

Epic.

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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 55 Comments

Follow-up

I realize I was a little… abrupt, yesterday. Let me tell you: Yesterday was so enormous that it stole all the words from my brain. So enormous.

I’ll probably do a couple of follow-up posts after I’ve had time to process a bit: yesterday in detail, reentry stuff, and maybe, maybe, some sort of gear post mortem.

But feel free not to read! The shouting, after all, is finished. 🙂

Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 40 Comments

Day 247: C’est fini

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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 49 Comments

Day 246: The last ramen

Ed Garvey Shelter [mile 2179.0]

Here we are. My last night on the Appalachian Trail, and what a long long long strange trip it’s been.

I was thinking about doing a ‘what I learned’ type of post, because what I’ve learned has been legion. But you know, if you come out here, the things you learn will be different. The trail teaches each of us the things we need to learn, and my things aren’t your things. That’s part of why the mantra of the hiking community is ‘Hike your own hike.’ In broader terms, Live and let live.

Am I different? No, not really. But the quiet has helped me pinpoint some things I’d like to work on.

And in six miles, give or take, I’ll have finished my bucket list! (Except maybe for those damned ponies.) At least the parts of it I have any say in. Winning the lottery is still on there. (At which point I’m jetting to new Zealand to do the Te Araroa, with a MUCH lighter pack.)

So. Last night was cold (naturally), but not as bad as Tuesday. My water didn’t freeze overnight. The day was gray November, though. It was raw and chill and never warmed up much. A weather change is coming. There’s a good chance I’ll be finishing in the rain (because the trail is never easy), and by Saturday it will be full-blown winter in Harpers Ferry. I’m getting out just in time.

Today… I walked! I know the trail is never easy, but today the terrain was. Superhighway and footpath. No obstacle course, no jungle gym. Just walking (with a side of rocks). I chatted with a dad and his two kids who are out for a few days. He asked one question I haven’t gotten from anybody who wasn’t thru-hiking NOBO, and certainly not this far south: “So how was the Mahoosuc Notch?” I love that I now have opinions about this stuff.

I passed what really might be my last memorial. It’s interesting being back in Civil War country. Makes me want to go home and watch the Ken Burns series again.

And it’s weird thinking about what I’ll do back home—car inspections and leaky faucets and chimney cleaning and house painting. Christmas shopping! That’s all become so alien. Luckily I don’t start work again for another week or so. I need a few days of transition time. And Thanksgiving’s in there, too.

Around noon tomorrow, the grand adventure finally ends. It’s been miraculous having you along for the ride.

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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 25 Comments

Day 245: Washington slept here

Rocky Run Shelter [mile 2169.9; SOBO 1151.5]

Is it just me, or does seeing ‘Rocky Run’ make you immediately start singing Rocky Raccoon?

I woke up to frozen water again, and one stake was frozen into the ground. But I tried a few new things. It’s astonishing, isn’t it? The tweaking and adapting never end, even with just a couple of days to go. I’ve started to pack my pack in a whole new way to try to alleviate my back and shoulder pain, and it’s been helpful… but truth be told, I think it’s carrying less food and water that have done it. The pack just doesn’t carry the way it used to, and my bones don’t sit correctly under it.

I’m now deflating my mat first instead of last so I can get it lower in the pack. I’m deflating my pillow last so I can sit on it while I’m packing. I’m keeping my down booties and pants on until the last minute. But the two big changes this morning: I packed up in my mittens, and I hiked the first four hours or so in my down jacket and hood.

That last is a big nono—right up there with “Cotton kills!” But you know what? I’m so far from sweating into my down in the morning that it’s not even funny. And even though last night was probably the coldest I’ll have to weather for the balance of the hike, this morning wasn’t as bad as it’s been.

Adapt, adapt, adapt! Even with 48 hours left.

So I hit the trail at around 8:00, decadently late. Yesterday when I was talking with Broken Candle, we both kept laughing at the thought of doing ten miles a day for three days. I feel like a ridiculous (but amused) slacker. If it were warm, I’d be having picnics and lighting campfires! But it’s been a blessing to be able to really stop and smell the roses, as they say, instead of pumping my little hamster legs for all they’re worth. I’ve been getting to take lunch breaks. Today I took a side trip to my last monument: the Washington Monument. (No, not that one.)

I finally got to the easy part of Maryland! The trail was varying degrees of dirtwalk and hiker superhighway all day. There were some climbs, but they were relatively brief and with wide trail.

The sky was blue again, instead of November gray, but at 11:00 AM my breath was still white in the air. My little sweet spot of warmth didn’t hit until noon, and it only lasted a couple of hours, tops. That’s when I finally was able to take off my puffy.

You know what I’m looking forward to? Wearing a scarf: a big, fluffy, winter scarf. And my coat with the hood!

There were a few hikers out today—day hikers, mostly, although there’s a backpacker of some flavor here at the shelter. I passed him earlier, and he said the words that always give me a jolt of surprise: “You’re Karma?” But it turns out that this guy was at the same shelter as Broken Candle last night. Hiker rule number one: All it takes is two hikers in the same location to set the Hiker Information Network buzzing.

The trail passed the Washington Monument, a tower that was used as a lookout point during the… was it the Civil War? I’m going crazy out here! I can’t remember a plaque I read four hours ago! Anyway, yeah. It was cool! My last monument, I imagine.

One more full day, then six miles on Friday. I’m nervous and excited. My emotions have really been on the surface for the last few days. I cry easily. This is all so hard to wrap my head around. I wonder how I’ll react on Friday? Will the emotion be drained out of me before then, so all that’s left is elation?

I kind of hope so. I’m down to my last pack of tissues.

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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 2 Comments

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.

Whew.

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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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 21 Comments

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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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 2 Comments

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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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 32 Comments

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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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 6 Comments

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