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Weeks 15-16: Pennsylvania
I am currently sitting inside my tent reflecting on my past week and seeking shelter from the mosquitoes. They are literally landing on the big netting and pressing their little faces against the mesh dying to come inside and suck my blood. I originally was not planning to carry or use any bug spray. But I had those thoughts in the winter when there were no bugs. Summer is now in full swing and the mosquitoes attack and eat me as I am walking, when I am trying to get water, and when I am trying to peacefully enjoy my dinner. All day long the gnats fly in front of your eyes and their loud companions buzz inches from your ears. I cannot tell you how many bugs committed suicide inside my ears and in my throat. When I was in Harper’s Ferry I actually bought packaged crickets to eat because I figured they would be good protein and I have already swallowed so many bugs (what is a couple more?). I have natural lemon spray, Picardin, and DEET. You may wonder why I am carrying all this weight. Well, I’m trying to figure out which repels the little vampires (mosquitoes) and devils (ticks) the most. And the answer is none. I have taken turns testing each out, I spray my skin and then watch the mosquitoes land on my skin. If the bites didn’t inch so darn much I wouldn’t care, I am also seriously worried about Lyme disease.
Pennsylvania is very muggy and humid therefore buggy but I have this deep rooted bias towards PA. It is after all what I consider my second home. I have greatly enjoyed walking on the parts of the AT that I had been before with my cousins. The south (GA, NC, TN, VA) was new and exciting and this terrain is familiar and comforting.
The day after Pine Grove Furnace we decided to attempt a “Hero.” In our books a “Hero” is a 25 mile day with a town stop, resupply and town meal. The terrain between Pine Grove Furnace and Duncannon was mostly farmland so we took on this challenge. The morning was rough for me, my left heel killed and I worried about plantar fasciitis. I had no idea how I was going to manage 13 more miles when we arrived in Boiling Springs, I felt rough. But Boiling Springs was like a little hiker haven. You walk through town and pass a river where I saw local kids playing in the water. The houses around the main body of water are old and unique looking, the lake’s edge is decorated with stone and there are memorials everywhere for the armed services. It is a very cute little town.
We hung out on the ATC Mid-Atlantic office’s front porch. There were cookies in the hiker box, a scale, a porch swing and a water spigot out back. Puma actually found a brand new pair of Salomon shoes in the hiker box that fit perfectly. Someone stole her crocs but she got new Salomons. The trail provides. I went to the local outfitter and bought “Superfeet” insoles. I figured that my arches were tired of Altra’s factory soles and soaked my feet in the lake-or at least attempted to soak my feet. The water was so cold I couldn’t stand keeping my feet in for more than 5 seconds. The next 13 miles were a nice change of pace as we traversed through pure farmland. The ground was completely flat without a rock in sight, you could actually look up at the sky without tripping! But farmland meant no tree cover, the sun blaring down on you, and no water for 13 miles. Then the chaffing began. Every single one of us in my tramily experienced the worse chaffing of our lives. Blaring sun meant sweat and sweat dripping down our backs meant our “undercarriages” were getting to be mighty sore. I still have no idea how I was able to dig deep and walk through the pain. The burning sensation was maddening but I was able to endure and push through. At about 20 miles I felt my body quit. Five miles left, five miles left, five miles left. My tramily and I were all mentally prepared to complete this challenge not only to challenge ourselves but also because we desperately needed water. Now I have never run a marathon but after this day, I’m not sure that I ever would want to. Towards the end of the hike I felt myself overheat and began to feel sick. I was nauseous and felt like I was running a fever with all the typical fever symptoms like aches and pains. My leg muscles were beginning to cramp. At mile 25.5 we got to the piped spring and decided to call it a night. There was a decent campsite and it was getting dark.
The next day was a day that I had been looking forward to in a long time, we were entering Duncannon. Duncannon, the town where I had spent the majority of my family holidays since before I was born. My Aunt and Uncle still live on the AT. I had been looking forward to walking down High Street and turning right at the black mailbox and into my loved ones arms. My Aunt and Uncle were so excited to see us and we were equally excited for ice cold water. My Aunt fed us vegetables and then my parents and my sister from New Jersey showed up as a surprise. After a nice rest my Aunt took our clothes to wash and then shuttled us to my friend’s Fourth of July party in Hershey. This party was another thing I have looked forward to. My friend Jordan’s parents host this amazing Fourth of July party every year and I usually cannot make it because I am working…but not this year! Jordan and her family graciously accepted my stinky self and my four tramily members for an awesome night. I wish I had a picture of their faces when they walked into the kitchen and took a gander at the buffet spread. My tramily ate and ate and ate, cooled off in the pool, and ended the night with karaoke. We didn’t get much sleep but it was so good seeing my friends from college.
The next day my friend cooked us baked oatmeal for breakfast and then my Dad and Uncle shuttled us back to Duncannon where my Aunt made us fajitas. Duncannon definitely sucked us in. A lot of napping took place the 5th of July before we hiked out to Peter’s Mountain Shelter. Around this time my boyfriend called and surprised me that he was back in Lancaster at his parent’s house so on the 6th of July I took another nearo and enjoyed smoked brisket with corn with my boyfriend and his family. His grand parents came over and were so excited to see me. They excitedly told me that they were following my adventures on Instagram and that they updated their friends on a weekly basis, they also have a brother out in Oregon who requests weekly updates on my progress from my boyfriend’s mother. The support I have been receiving lately has been unbelievable. This is the magic of the AT, people all around are excited for you and they want to see you succeed, they want to see you reach your goal. I have taken a lot of time off in PA and yes I need to make miles but taking time off to see loved ones is important. It enriches your hike and your life. Before I left, many people around me were apprehensive but things have changed and all I feel is love. There is no more fear mongering. I am incredibly lucky. Many people fall out of love for the AT around PA because the bugs get bad, the rocks get bad, and well the honeymoon period is over. But I feel like I have this advantage by having so many loved ones in southern PA.
Having had taken a nearo to see my boyfriend meant that I had to be in catch-up mode to see my tramily. I woke up in heavy rain and decided to wait for the rain to pass before packing up…but it took forever to pass. Eventually I decided just to do my best, put on my rain gear and go. I walked through knee deep water (so much fun- seriously it was fun) for the entire 12 hour day. My shoes became so swollen with water that I think they weighed 2 lbs more a piece. I walked 22.1 miles with Memorial, a hiker who typically does 30 mile days, but he slowed down for me to make sure that I could get to the to 501 shelter. This shelter is managed by a caregiver who volunteers with the ATC. I got pizza, pasta and met some really cool hikers. Some of them shuttled ahead because they were worried about not making Katahdin in time. It just goes to show you that everyone’s journey is different and that is 100% okay.
The next day I hiked 12 hours with Memorial, our pace differed between 2-3 miles per hour. I like hiking with dads of daughters, they always give you lots of encouragement and confidence, we managed to walk 24 miles in less than 12 hours. I felt so happy, I was able to catch up with my tramily in Port Clinton. I lived that whole day on adrenaline and Hiker High. We decided to get dinner at the hotel in town but we weren’t allowed to enter the dining room unless showered. I showered and while I was showering the restaurant began to close down. They tried to quickly usher us out as fast as they could – we definitely weren’t in the south anymore. That night we stayed in the Pavillion in Port Clinton and I resupplied with a dozen pop tarts that I found in the hiker box so I wouldn’t fall behind my Tramily again.
July 9th- I desperately needed a break from my 24 mile day but the hike had to continue. The next day my Tramily settled into a 19 mile day. We all felt beat from the heat. But we managed to climb up to the Pulpit and Pinnacle. While at the Pulpit we ran into over 70 kids carrying army packs and wearing orange shirts. They were with some sort of Air Ranger program and were practicing search and rescue. In general people love coming up to us and telling us that they want to hike the trail and why they haven’t been able to yet. A couple of the Air Ranger commanders did this. I like to tell them that hiking the AT is the best decision I ever made and that they should do everything they can to try to get it here.
July 10th was on and off rain. I don’t mind this weather because I have a chance to dry out. It was a really pleasant hiking day though besides the rain. We went over Knife’s Edge. Though I tried to be careful, due to the rain, I slipped on a large angled rock. I held onto a nearby pine tree branch but went down with it and landed hard on my left hip. I had immediate intense pain. “Ooo ooo ooo I need a second.” My friends around me turned to see if I was okay and when the initial shock was over I could continue. I then slipped again over Bake Oven Knob and fell on my right hip. I had to be even right? That night I met my doppelgänger. Her name is Two Sticks and her husband is a winemaker in New Jersey. My name is Drop Sticks and my boyfriend is an assistant winemaker who just interviewed in New Jersey. Funny how the trail brings people together, right?
The next day my tramily and I were so excited to enter the climb out of Lehigh Gap. It is a very steep bouldering section. I’ve fallen back in love with my backpack because it has an easy way to stow away one’s trekking poles without having to take the backpack off. The Lehigh Gap climb is definitely one of those times where poles are not needed. Seriously, it was fun. We took our time and enjoyed the early morning cool weather. The rain from the day before stopped and the sun was mostly blocked by clouds. We had expected to die in the direct blaze of sun but instead we got a cool breeze. We were seriously lucky. At one point I looked up to the sky and shouted, “thank you!” We could not ask for more perfect circumstances but then we stumbled onto fields of wild blackberries and raspberries and had our fill. We must have been distracted because Puma and I took a 0.5 wrong turn detour but were able to reroute ourselves to the AT and make it to Palmerton for Bert’s Family Restaurant. In PA we had gotten lost a couple times through rock sections as the white blazes are more difficult to see on light colored rock but thanks to Google Maps and just plain know-how we were able to find our way back every time. Hikers get like a sixth sense when they lose the trail. Bert’s Family Restaurant was incredibly hiker friendly. Mmm mmm mmm, I recommend the open face cheesteak and homemade pierogies. Over the Fourth of July my tramily met my Aunt and Uncle, Mom and Dad, sister, and boyfriend. Well this week we were invited into Pusher’s Muggle world (life before the Trail). We headed into Phoenixville, PA so he could swap out his winter clothes and to attend the Blob Festival- yes you read that correct. It is an old B-rated horror movie about a Blob eating people. The tradition is for people to run out of the theater after the movie. My tramily and about 300 other people lined the Main Street of downtown Phonexville to catch this phenomenon. Yes it was great. I coincidentally also ran into a friend from college. I have so many connections in Pennsylvania….
July 14th was another BDE (best day ever) my friend Reecha came to visit and as I waited at Smith Gap (outside of Wind Gap, PA) an adorable couple came to set up trail magic. The husband was hard of hearing and the wife was soft spoken. I helped them set up their tent which broke in the process. “That is what duct tape is for” the wife was quickly able to remedy the situation and fix the tent. They had a surprise 28th birthday party for their son and couldn’t wait to bring food for the hikers. Their daughter had thru-hiked. Reecha showed up and I got to show her trail magic and a shelter with a register.
My friend did an excellent job keeping up with us hikers. We rattled on about our lives. It was so good to catch up with someone from home. I’ve known Reecha since middle school. She graciously shuttled us hikers to and from Giant Food store in Wind Gap. I really hope she can get the hiker stench out of her car.
This day had a fantastic ending. I got to see (and hear) a Timber Rattler for the first time and I spotted a bear at dusk. When I saw his furry black butt I was in excited disbelief (I wanted to see one so badly). I was about 200 feet off so I took a quick video and then started to shout at him (he was on the trail). “Bear!!!! bear!!!” He didn’t budge. I then put my trekking poles above my head, clacked them together and sang the most off-key version of Queen’s Fat-Bottomed Girls imaginable. The bear at first was quite confused about the ruckus but he slowly moved away into the woods and I continued to the agreed upon campsite. Past the last shelter in PA there is a campsite 0.3 beyond. There is a spectacular view east. The moon and the glittering lights from the far away town made for a mystical view. We also met Smat, the ridgerunner for the Delaware Water Gap Section who gave us a watermelon and a knife! This was the best camping location to say goodbye to PA.
The very last town in PA is called Delaware Water Gap. There are decent food establishments in town for cheap and the Church of the Mountains offers a donation-based hostel. We chilled inside the air conditioning to wait for our last tramily member. Diggs had done a Spartan Race for fun while we attended the Blob Festival. Hikers don’t need much, just a dry cool place to lay low for a while. When I get off trail I hope I’m able to send hygiene supplies back to the churches that helped me on my journey. In town I was able to bucket wash my clothes, I now understand the importance of a wash board.
I was all smiles in DWG. I’ve climbed Mt Minsi in PA. I’ve climbed up to Sunfish Pond, Stairway to Heaven, and Highpoint, NJ. Why? Because this is my home state. I’ve officially walked home. I’ve walked here from Georgia. This Jersey Girl is about to have the best week of her life.
- Drop Sticks