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AT 2017: Day 96, New Tripoli Campsite to Campsite at Mile 1262.2

Standing on the moon

Hike with Gravity

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.

Weather Cloudy early, clearing to mostly sunny skies; warm with a high temperature in the low 80s
Trail Conditions Pennsylvania's Jekyll and Hyde pattern continues
Today's Miles 16.3 miles
Trip Miles 1,262.2 miles

After getting plenty of rest yesterday, it wasn’t difficult to wake up this morning at 5:00. Still, we were slow to get moving, and didn’t leave camp until 7:30.

Everything was still wet from yesterday’s rain. As I was packing up my tent, I shook the water off, then didn’t want to get it wet again by rolling it up in the rain-soaked grass. I kept it off the grass by using my sit pad.

My pack was some distance from this spot. So when I went over to it to strap the tent to the pack, I absent-mindedly left the sit pad lying on the ground. It remained there as I finished packing and left the campsite. I didn’t realize I had left it behind until I stopped for lunch.

Making the climb back up the ridge to the trail, I saw Maple, who once again barked at me. I stopped here to talk to Jason for a couple minutes before continuing on.

Back on the trail, it was only about a mile to go to reach the Knife's Edge. From here, the walking was slow going.

One reason for that was the frequent opportunities for views of the Pennsylvania landscape below.

Another reason was the shear ruggedness of the trail. It wasn’t just a section of walking over rocks. It was also climbing and scrambling over rocks, which were often jutting in difficult angles.

There were numerous white blazes painted on rocks to help us navigate. It wasn’t always obvious without these which way was the best way to go.

The Knife's Edge continued like this for about a mile. Several times as I scrambled and carefully picked each step I said to myself, “I’m so glad I’m not doing this in a rainstorm."

Later, the Dr. Jekyll portion of the trail took over when the rocks disappeared. Unfortunately, thanks to the rain of the last two days there was plenty of mud.

True to form, the trail only went about a mile-and-a-half farther before Mr. Hyde returned.

After going over another viewpoint called Bake Oven Knob, I stopped for a break at a shelter by the same name. Stick was there, talking to a section hiker named Hoosier. That name caught my attention because I grew up in Indiana. It turned out, though, that this Hoosier isn’t from that state. He got his name because he raced cars in Indiana.

After Stick left I stayed behind to filter water. Moments later, RedEye, Boomer, Jason and Maple arrived. Maple didn’t bark at me this time. Perhaps I’m winning her over.

The Jekyll and Hyde trail continued, but had longer sections of smooth tread way. There wasn’t much elevation change in this section.

One notable thing about this section was the appearance of ripe blueberries. I had seen some wild blueberries along the side of the trail before, but these were the first I had seen that were ripe enough to eat. I grabbed a couple handfuls as I continued down the trail.

There was one other notable thing about this section, but I failed to note it. Had I looked at the map on my Guthooks app I would have seen that the trail was going over the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Interstate 476. It crossed over the Lehigh Tunnel, but I never saw the highway and had no idea I was walking directly over it.

As the trail began a descent to Lehigh Gap and the Lehigh River, it passed the George W. Otterbridge Shelter. This was the last good spot for several miles to get water, so I stopped to drink up and collect two liters.

After I continued down to the river, I met a young man of about 14 or 15 years old. He told me he was hiking with his uncle, but it seemed he was much more interested in hiking with me. He peppered me with questions about my hike, interspersing them with exclamations of how amazing it was for me to attempt to walk from Georgia to Maine.

“I could never do that!” he said several times, though I tried to persuade him that it was possible for him to do it if he wished.

At the bottom of Lehigh Gap the boy stayed behind to wait for his uncle and I crossed the river on a highway bridge.

The trail made a turn at Pennsylvania Route 248, then followed the road for a short distance before reaching an intersection, which was presumably the safest place to cross the busy road.

This spot instantly became my nominee for the most ridiculous spot on the trail.

When two white blazes are painted together, with the upper one slightly to the left or right of the lower one, a hiker knows this is a spot where the trail makes a turn. The blazes are helpful because the turn may not be obvious without seeing them. Two such blazes were painted here on a light pole at this intersection.

Notice, though, what was mounted just above the white blazes. It was a “no crossing” sign.

That’s right. The trail was marked to cross the highway at a spot where crossing was prohibited.

If I was going to get to Maine I had no choice but to break the law, so I did.

Don’t judge me.

A short distance beyond the scene of the crime, the trail began a steep and rocky climb up Blue Mountain. There were many large, exposed boulders on this climb.

Though it was a challenging section of trail, sometimes requiring hand-over-foot scrambling, the views along the way were spectacular. Soon I was able to see nearly the whole expanse of the Lehigh Valley, as well as the route I had taken to get here.

The farther up the trail ascended, the rockier and more difficult it got. The time was now 6:30 p.m. I was hot, tired and getting hungry, but I kept on. Despite the difficulty of the rock scrambles and the slow going, I was enjoying this.

As the trail turned a corner, the remaining part of the valley and the small town of Palmerton swept into the view below.

For many years the town was a popular stop for hikers because they could stay in the town jail, which had been converted into a hostel. After forty years of operation, though, the hostel was closed in 2015.

There was an unfortunate reason for the rockiness of this section of trail, which has often been described as a moon landscape. This was a Superfund site, devastated by years of pollution. The mountainside is on the mend now, but it was at one time about as bleak a place as you could imagine.

The slope of Blue Mountain had become denuded by waste spewed from a zinc smelting factory that operated for nearly 70 years at the bottom of the mountain.

Contaminants from the smelting residue pile killed most of the foliage on 2,000 acres of land, then rain water runoff from the polluted soil eroded and washed heavy metals into nearby streams. That polluted one of the wells providing water for Palmerton residents.

Children and animals living in the area were found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood.

The smelting operation was finally shut down in 1980, leaving behind a waste pile 2.5 miles long, 500 to 1000 feet wide, and 100 feet high.

The site was added to the Superfund list in 1983, when attempts to clean up the mess were begun.

On the face of one large boulder someone had painted an American flag.

Continuing on, I slowly picked my way across a scree field filled with loose rocks.

It wasn’t until 7 p.m. before the trail flattened out and I was able to walk without concern for twisting an ankle again. The trail followed the rounded side of the mountain through a scrubby patch of vegetation. There weren’t many trees here of normal height, only shrubs and stunted trees.

As I walked along the ridge it looked as if the Superfund remediation efforts are paying off. Nature was showing its resilience. In the place of a barren wasteland of death there are now signs of growth and healing everywhere.

I passed a young man who had set up camp along this ridge. He momentarily startled me with a question, “Are you going SOBO?”

Though I was confident I didn’t get turned around and was heading the wrong direction, I still had to think for a second to reassure myself. Yes, I was definitely going northbound.

The young man realized then that he got turned around while he was looking for a spot to set up camp. This was probably a good thing for him to realize, for he might have left in the wrong direction tomorrow morning.

The trail entered a section of tall grass, which was part of the rehabilitation effort to prevent further erosion.

All along the way, I was catching views of Palmerton, the valley, and the remnants of the polluting zinc plant.

Then I stopped to view the sunset. I still had an hour more of hiking before I would reach where Stick and I agreed to camp for the night, but that didn’t matter right now.

I wanted to absorb the moment. I wanted to watch the orange, purple and magenta hues wash across the clouds and sink into the valley. I wanted to revel in the climb I just finished and in the distance I had walked for the last three-and-a-half months.

Then Robert Hunter's words came to mind from the Grateful Dead song, “Standing on the Moon.”

And I thought of Kim.

Standing on the moon
Where talk is cheap and vision true
Standing on the moon
But I would rather be with you
Somewhere in San Francisco
On a back porch in July
Just looking up to heaven
At this crescent in the sky

Standing on the moon
With nothing left to do
A lovely view of heaven
But I'd rather be with you - be with you


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