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AT 2017: Day 87, U.S. 11 to Duncannon

Don't tell me this town ain't got no heart

Hike with Gravity

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.

Weather Cloudy and cool, with several hours of light rain, high temperature in the mid 70s
Trail Conditions Flat and easy trail ends and steep ascents and descents take over, with many rocky sections
Today's Miles 17.9 miles
Trip Miles 1,147.4 miles

We didn’t rush to get out of the Days Inn early. There was nothing about our room or the motel’s free breakfast to give us reason to linger. It was a utilitarian place that seemed to cater mostly to truck drivers, thanks to its proximity to two major highways.

It wasn’t until nearly 9 a.m. before we were finally walking along the highway back to the trail.

I mentioned yesterday how a road intersection on our walk to town was decidedly unwelcoming.

We had to cross that intersection again, and shortly after that we reached another hiker-unfriendly obstacle. There was no clear path from the road back to the trail.

When we arrived here yesterday and walked down to the road we just picked our way down the steep embankment, thinking we had missed a side trail. Now going back, we discovered we hadn’t miss it at all. It didn’t exist.

We clambered up the hill to get back to the trail, then crossed the highway on a footbridge.

I thought maybe we simply missed the correct way down to the road, so when we got to the other side of the bridge I looked to see if it was there.

It wasn’t.

The trail soon passed through a series of farm fields. Much like the farms near Boiling Springs, these were large operations, only they were mostly for beef and dairy.

Near where we crossed over Interstate 81 we met two hikers named SOL and Joyhiker. They were the van owners who were hiking with Cookie Monster.

Each day after he drops them off at one spot on the trail, they begin hiking north. Cookie Monster then takes their van to another spot and begins hiking south. When they meet each other about half way they exchange the van key so SOL and Joyhiker can pick up Cookie Monster at the end of the day.

I’m sure this arrangement makes hiking easier because they only carry day packs, but I don’t think I would enjoy it as much.

Stick and I walked more or less together for nearly an hour over flat to slightly-rolling terrain, which took us through cow pastures and fields of corn and beans.

This section of easy trail was enjoyable, especially because I knew we would soon trade the flat miles for rocky ups and downs.

Leaving the fields, the trail crossed a wooden boardwalk near Conodoquinet Creek. All this time, the sky was turning grayer. No rain fell yet, but it seemed as though that would happen at any minute.

When the trail crossed a bridge over Conodoquinet Creek it was somewhat startling to discover how wide the creek was. Calling it a river might have seemed more correct, but just as geographers have given up trying to standardize names for hills and mountains, there is no standardized way to name a stream.

The dreariness of the weather was unfortunate because I would have preferred seeing the wildflowers I passed by in bright sunlight. The first of these flowers were daylilies in large clumps at both sides of the trail.

At 11 a.m. we walked through a tunnel under Pennsylvania Route 944. This marked the end of the long flat section of trail through the Cumberland Valley.

As if to accent the moment, a light rain began to fall.

At least there were still wildflowers to look at, including numerous brilliant crimson beebalm.

There were also a few crown vetch. The trail was now re-entering in the forest and beginning a climb.

Oddly, part-way up this climb at the side of the trail was a rusted, wrecked vehicle of unknown age and origin.

Later, I passed an unusual bench made of stacked rocks and this delicately-balanced rock cairn. These little discoveries helped to break up the drabness of the day.

Near the top of the first climb there should have been a view, but there was no payoff from this gap in the trees, thanks to the drizzle that was falling.

Continuing on, the trail then became thick with ferns near Darlington Shelter. I stopped there for a short break and met a hiker named Fib.

After descending from that first climb the trail entered a broad, sweeping meadow of freshly-mown hay spread over rolling hills.

At the other end of the meadow the trail crossed another boardwalk. This one had been constructed a few years ago as an Eagle Scout project.

Beyond the boardwalk was another meadow, but here the light rain combined with fog to minimize visibility.

During the next big climb I was beginning to consider one of the two options Stick and I had discussed, that being the one to stop early today, then go into Duncannon tomorrow. It was such a damp and bleary day, stopping sooner seemed more appealing.

Then I met Diviner, a SOBO section hiker. He passed along a message from Stick, who said he was going on to Duncannon. I checked the time and distance, and saw that it was doable before dark, so I decided to do the same.

It helped that the rain ended as I neared Duncannon, because the trail began a steep descent toward the town.

Part of the way down there should have been a view from Hawk Rock, but there was nothing to see today, thanks to thick, low clouds.

This section of trail is maintained by volunteers from the Duncannon Appalachian Trail Club. A few years ago they hauled up several gallons of water and used it to scrub graffiti off this rock.

At the bottom of the descent the trail took me straight into town. Duncannon is often described as gritty, but almost immediately I noticed it wasn’t rundown at all. Perhaps at worst it could be said the town was a little well-worn here and there. But gritty? No.

Perhaps the town gets some of its reputation from the Doyle Hotel, which is where I was headed.

There’s no getting around it. The Doyle is a tired old building. Many hikers say they have fond memories of their stay here, and it’s been a long-time landmark of this small town. To be honest, though, it’s hard to describe the place without using the word tired. Some might be less charitable and call it a dump, while others may praise it for its character.

The hotel opened sometime in the 1770s. After it burnt to the ground in 1903 it was rebuilt. When the hotel re-opened two years later it was called the Johnson Hotel.

During this period the hotel was owned by Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company. Before Prohibition it was common for larger breweries to own saloons and hotels. The businesses served as a marketing platform and a way to control the market.

When Prohibition hit in 1920 the Busch family was forced to sell or close most of their properties.

The hotel changed hands a few more times until 1944 when a man named Jim Doyle won $444,444.44 in the Irish Lottery. Doyle used his winnings to buy the hotel and he operated it for many years.

After two more ownership changes the current owners, Pat and Vickey Kelly, bought the hotel in 2001.

They have worked hard to make it more hiker friendly, but haven’t had the resources to do much more than keep the lights on. By their own admission they’ve come close to losing the hotel on a couple occasions.

The Kellys faced foreclosure in 2016 when they couldn’t make payments on the loan and taxes. Through the help of a GoFundMe campaign set up by a friend, however, more that $10,000 was raised to keep the business afloat.

It’s hard to say if the hotel is on its way to recovery. To be honest, I didn’t want to stay here, so when I learned there were no rooms available and that Stick had left, I was relieved.

Still, I had a chance to meet Pat and Vickey Kelly, and they were friendly and welcoming.

I also ran into Mechanic, who was staying there and was currently playing pool. He told me he was trying to catch up to Pippi.

Ah. The plot thickens with a hint of romance.

Mechanic told me Stick was headed to a church where hikers were allowed to stay in the basement, but he had only vague directions on where to find it.

I headed that way and had only walked one block when a van pulled up beside me. A window rolled down, Radio stuck his head out of it and shouted my name.

This was one of those events that might have been surprising were it not happening on the trail.

There was no room in the van, but Radio gave me better directions to the church.

About halfway there I ran into Stick, who was walking toward me. He said he was headed to a nearby convenience store to check out resupply options.

I told him about Radio and the van, which was a free shuttle provided by a local grocery store. We agreed to hold off on doing our resupply until tomorrow when we could use the grocery store shuttle ourselves. Then we walked to the church.

The fellowship hall of Duncannon Assembly of God Church was located in the basement of the church. The church’s staff and members offer this space to hikers as a ministry on a free/donation basis. They also do little extra things, like host a dinner for hikers every Wednesday night.

By the time we arrived, Radio was already preparing dinner, but not just for himself. He had gone to the store with One Night Stand, Shlog and Dirty Duck, where they bought some food to combine with leftovers from last night’s hiker feed.

I spread out my gear to dry and got cleaned up. Before long, we were eating barbecue chicken and rice while sitting around a ping pong table. Along with Stick and the other aforementioned hikers, Sun, Scout and Silk were here.

I had been wary of Duncannon, unsure of what to expect from this small, lower-middle class town by the Susquehanna River, with its seedy reputation. So far, I’ve only seen examples of friendliness, generosity and warmth on this damp and dreary day.

You say you've seen this town clear through 
(Well, well, well - you can never tell)
Nothin' here that could interest you
(Well, well, well - you can never tell)
It's not because you missed out
On the thing we had to start
Maybe you had too much too fast
Maybe you had too much too fast
Maybe you had too much too fast
And just overplayed your part

Nothin' shakin on Shakedown street
Used to be the heart of town
Don't tell me this town ain't got no heart
You just gotta poke around


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine." ref.