Long before I started this hike I had known about the rocks of Pennsylvania. What I didn’t know until I reached Rocksylvania was the trail isn’t a continuous jumble of rocks. Only about half of the trail through this part of the state is covered in rocks. I’ve begun to think of the AT in Pennsylvania as the Jekyll and Hyde Trail. It’s half good and half evil. As of today there are just under 50 miles to go to finish Rocksylvania. Thanks to yesterday’s zero day, I feel much better about making it to the Delaware River in one piece.
An expression you sometimes hear on the trail, and one I’ve even said myself, is “Embrace the suck”. It’s borrowed from the military. There will be challenges, so the thought goes, but you just have to roll with them. Accept them. Let them motivate and give you strength. And then came Rocksylvania. I’ve fallen down and twisted my ankle too many times to embrace that suck. The rocks and the monotony of a trail without many views have been dispiriting. The rain is no fun either, but it’s the wear and tear on my body lately that has made me feeling down. I was beat up. I was frustrated and angry.
Day 94, Eckville Shelter to New Tripoli Campsite
You've been judged in the balance and found wanting
What do you get when you add one heavy backpack, hot and humid weather, heavy rain, and poor trail conditions? Mix them all together and you get one unhappy hiker.
It seemed like the right thing to do. As we set off out of Port Clinton, we only had enough food to get us through today. We decided last night to not go to Hamburg to resupply, perhaps mostly because we didn’t want to deal with hiring a shuttle to take us. Hey, the trail provides, right?
This part of Pennsylvania makes me think of the movie The Deer Hunter. It shouldn’t, because the movie is set in western Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh. Nevertheless, I’m reminded of it as I walk through these woods. Much of the land the trail traverses here is through state game lands. I realize that the trail needs to go though public lands whenever possible, so it’s not surprising that game lands are used. Still, we have walked through so much land set aside for hunting I can’t help think the citizens of this state are hunting-obsessed. I don’t really know if they are. I just can’t help think that way. At any rate, if Pennsylvanians are hunting-obsessed, I’m fine with that. The land they’ve preserved keeps the trail from being encroached by civilization. Or at least, that’s the intent.
The word on the street — or trail, if you will — was Pennsylvania rocks didn’t get bad until after Duncannon. While that has proven to be true, I have a couple of observations. For one, the rocks have not been continuously bad. There have been several stretches of smooth trail or stretches where the rocks didn’t pose much of a hazard. When I come upon a section of trail that is not littered in rocks, I’ve learned to throw my transmission in high gear and speed onward. These sections are where I can make up a little of the time lost navigating the rocky sections. The other observation is, when the rocks are bad, they are really bad. They are so bad it’s hard to understand how anyone thinks this is a proper trail. Each step taken on one of these rocky sections is a joint-twisting, bone-jarring, trekking-pole-grabbing, mind-numbing slow walk of constant peril.
The creepy deer that wandered about Yellow Springs Campsite yesterday evening hung around through most of the night. Every now and then I woke up and heard it walking around. Fortunately, though, it didn’t try to eat anything belonging to me or another camper. To the relief of everyone, it was gone by the time we woke up this morning.
I’m finding that I have to take extra care as I hike through Pennsylvania, and I don’t just mean because of the rocks. I need to be more careful about when I get water and how much of it I carry. There have been a few dry stretches. I also have to take care to include electrolytes in my water. I’m sweating so much every day that plain water isn’t enough. And I’m trying to keep my calorie intake up. I’m being more purposeful about the amount and kind of calories I consume.
As if we had an alarm clock, everyone in the church basement seemed to awaken at the same time this morning. Before long, we were all busily preparing for another day on the trail. As they did yesterday evening, Radio, Dirty Duck, and Shlog prepared food, which they shared with everyone. We ate well as we again sat around the ping pong table.
When Stick and I left our motel in Carlisle this morning, we weren’t sure what to expect from this day. We weren’t even sure how far we would hike. Maybe we’d push hard and go into Duncannon, or maybe we’d go easy and take a nero there tomorrow. The only expectation I had was that Duncannon was not going to be much of a town, so it didn’t matter to me if I got there early or not.
Since passing the halfway point on Day 84 I am now closer to Mt. Katahdin than I am Springer Mountain. Yet still, I don’t feel that much closer to Maine. It’s an odd feeling, which I think has more to do with the days, weeks and months that remain, compared to the total number of miles I still have to walk. It still feels daunting, but a little less so. Each day adds a little more confidence for successfully completing my hike. It’s still not a sure thing, and won’t be until I finish, but I know my odds are getting better.
There’s not much done on the Appalachian Trail that’s done in small measure. Even marking the halfway point isn’t simply a matter of taking the length of the trail, dividing by two and putting a small marker by the trail. It's done in multiple places and by following various traditions. A few days ago I passed through Harpers Ferry, known as the psychological halfway point. I crossed the official halfway point yesterday. Today would bring me to two more halfway points and more ways to celebrate the milestone.
I’ve spent many years thinking about and planning for this hike. As of today, I have completed half of it. Despite all of the time I've spent researching, following blogs, and watching videos of other hikers, I’m discovering surprising moments on my hike I could not have anticipated. These unexpected moments are usually small, but they help to make my hike especially fun and meaningful. Today was filled with such moments.
We didn’t quite get the logistics right for last night’s town stop. After arriving at the motel at 5 p.m., we had enough time to shower, eat dinner, and purchase food for the next section, but not for doing laundry. Thanks to Stick’s willingness to stay up late, the laundry got done, but there was one other task that had to be deferred to this morning.
Thru-hikers like to invent games and “challenges”. For example, there’s the Four State Challenge, which involves hiking from Virginia, through West Virginia and Maryland, before reaching Pennsylvania. To complete this you hike 44 miles in under 24 hours. A slightly shortened version of that is the Maryland Challenge, which covers 41 miles from state line to state line. Is that too tame for you? Then try the Rocky’s Pizza Challenge, which starts from Curley Maple Gap Shelter in Tennessee. Within two hours you must race down the mountain to the town of Erwin, order two large pizzas at a local pizza shop, run next door to the liquor store and buy a case of beer, then haul the pizza and beer the five miles back up to the shelter.