Hiking the AT in New Jersey

Purple cone flowers outside the church hostel.
Purple cone flowers outside the church hostel.

I’m currently in Vernon, New Jersey staying at a church hostel for the night. Just got back from a free community supper at another church then a quick resupply at the local A&P. Wow am I tired, but I’m still on the trail! Today I hit New York State for the first time and spent most of the day crossing back and forth on the NJ/NY line. As of today, I have completed 1352.9 miles of the AT. No wonder my feet hurt! ๐Ÿ˜‰

 

The Conductor practices his balancing act.
The Conductor practices his balancing act.

DAILY LOG

Thursday, July 10 Delaware Water Gap, PA 1289.6 to Mohican Outdoor Center 1300.4

A couple days ago was the hardest, most dangerous day I’ve had on the trail. I climbed more rocks than in the entire state of Virginia and the worst section, Bake Oven Knob, I did alone. And many of the rocks weren’t stable. I can’t believe I didn’t fall and break something important. Like my head. But here’s the kicker. The day before that one was the hardest, most dangerous day I’d spent hiking. AND I felt that way the day previous to that one, too. It’s all on account of the rocks of Pennsylvania. Maybe if I was hiking with a group, maybe if I was a more experienced climber. Maybe…ahem….if I were younger, this would be OK. But it isn’t safe for me. I’d been lucky, but It’s dangerous to continue. It was clear that there were similar (or worse) rocks in the next section, the last of Pennsylvania, especially the climb out of Palmerton, Lehigh Gap. I did not think it was safe for me to hike. So I found a shuttle driver to take me to Delaware Water Gap, the last AT town in PA as you hike north.
Last night I stayed at the Church of the Mountains Hostel. Actually, I was in the shelter out back because the hostel was full. (Future thru hikers: if you can’t get a room inside, set up a tent. There’s too many lights, cars and people coming and going to get any sleep in this tiny shelter.)
It rained for the third night in a row and my lightweight, summer sleeping bag feels wet. Down sucks moisture out of the air and if there were a laundry anywhere I’d put this on in the dryer. But there isn’t.

The Delaware River
The Delaware River

It finally stopped raining about 8:30a and I hiked out, right down Main Street, then to the Delaware River Bridge. It’s a mile long and sets you down in New Jersey, right at Kittatiny State Park and the Dunnfield Nature Preserve. I stopped in at the Visitors Center and signed in. I did notice that my former hiking partner, Hank, had signed in here. He didn’t write in many shelter logs, so it was nice to see his name.
Then I hiked on. And that’s when the climb began. As usual, it was about 1,200 ft, but was a fairly gradual incline. In fact, it felt like it would go on forever.

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It was a lovely climb....
It was a lovely climb….
...despite the rocks. But, hey, it's not Pennsylvania !
…despite the rocks. But, hey, it’s not Pennsylvania !

imageAt the top is Sunfish Pond, a much photographed AT site. Though it was all quite rocky, it was nothing like Pennsylvania, so I won’t complain. Still, the rocks really slowed me down because you have to be so careful where you place your feet to avoid twisting your ankle. Some days my neck gets sore from looking down at my feet. If I want to see either side of the trail, I have to stop. With my late start and slow pace, I was going to be hiking late today. I pulled out the iPad and finished the book I was listening to, Follow the River. It’s an historical fiction, based on the real life kidnapping and escape of Laura Engels Wilder from Indians in the mid 1700’s in Virginia. She was taken west well past the Ohio River and had to escape and walk back home with no provisions and few clothes. She hiked in the late Fall and it took about 50 days. It’s a miracle she made it.

Sunfish pond
Sunfish pond
Sunfish pond
Sunfish pond

imageIt was really pleasant hiking, except for my slow pace. A deer let me take several photos. The wildlife is so unafraid in state park lands. There were lots of colorful butterflies and dragonflies. A very tall, dead tree fell over near me, but I wasn’t in any danger from it. The loud crack as it started to fall surprised me. And there were lots of blueberries and a few raspberries to eat.
I checked the forecast because I didn’t like the look of the clouds. It has rained the last three nights but the forecast said clear skies this evening and the next two days.
Despite that, a few raindrops fell. I put my electronics into waterproof bags and put on my pack cover. Within 5 minutes the sky suddenly got dark and I could feel the rain coming. I decided I had enough time to put up my tent before the rain. I was still 2.5 miles away from my preferred destination, but this looked like as good a place to camp as any.

I took this photo 20 minutes before it started to rain. The forecast said "Partly Cloudy."
I took this photo 20 minutes before it started to rain. The forecast said “Partly Cloudy.”

Except I misjudged. I didn’t have enough time to get the tent up! Just as I spread out the ground clothe and unrolled the tent, it came down in buckets. I was soaked and there’s no way to keep the inside of the tent dry while setting it up. The top of the pack was open and I got rain inside, too. This was a mistake, but it was too late to stop now. I continued setting up to get the pack out of the rain. I put up the tent and threw everything inside. By now I was too wet to get in. I stripped down to my underwear, hung my wet clothes on a tree limb and jumped inside the tent, trying to bring in as little water with me as possible. I used my bandana and a sock to dry my body and sop up the floor of the tent. I curse my stupidity. Why didn’t I just keep hiking? This is a summer shower. Sure it’s heavy, but it won’t last long. I keep as much stuff inside the pack’s dry bag (a plastic trash compactor bag) and wait it out. A hiker stops by and wants to chat through my tent wall. I’m practically naked! This is uncomfortable, even though he can’t see inside. Finally, he hikes on. Phew!

Now it's not only rocky, but the rocks are wet.
Now it’s not only rocky, but the rocks are wet.

When the rain stops, I get out, ring out my wet clothes and put them back on. Then I take down the tent and hike on.
If I was going slow before, I was crawling now in the wet rocks. Just before I get to the road, someone has written 1300 in sticks. Another hundred miles done! It took until 7p to get to the Mohican Outdoor Center, so I arrived after hours and there was no one around to check me in or tell me where to go. Messy, but I showered and set about drying out what I could before exhaustion made me give up and go to bed.

I was soaked, but I made the 1300 mile mark!
I was soaked, but I made the 1300 mile mark!

Friday, July 11 Mohican Outdoor Center 1300.4 to Blue Mountain Lakes Road, 1307.4

It’s a very late start because I just can’t get it together to hike out. My clothes and gear are still wet, but I put my hiking clothes on, pack up my still wet tent and do the best I can. It’s 8:30a before I go to the main house. There will be no one on duty until 10a! I leave my phone number and offer to give them a credit card if they call me. No one does.
At 10:30a the sun is out and I’m on top of a mountain at the base of a fire tower. I spread everything out to dry while I eat an early lunch. In an hour most everything is dry and my pack is much lighter.

Fire tower
Fire tower

imageA few miles later I run into an Outward Bound group also getting water. They ask a lot of questions about hiking the trail and I momentarily feel like a superstar. A sweaty, dehydrated, footsore superstar.
In another mile I hit some spectacular Trail Magic. Three members of an area hiking club are set up with a grill and lots of food. I eat a hamburger, hot dog, potato chips, 2 soft drinks, chocolate covered berries, pickles and walk out with Oreo cookies. It’s shocking how much I can eat if people just keep putting food on my plate. I sit there for an hour and a half when I really should be hiking.
In another couple miles it’s suddenly dark skies, so I set up the tent. Too early to stop for the night, but I’m tired and don’t want to take down the tent and hike on. I’m getting quite run down.

Trail angels
Trail angels

Decided to try toget up earlier to deal with heat and afternoon storms. I set the alarm for 5a and hope to be out by 5:45. That way I can set up early since it seems to rain every night.
Mosquitos are whining outside my tent. The bugs have been bad every day. I wear my head net most afternoons. Surprisingly, just putting on a ball cap will often keep them from darting into my eyes until they are extra thick. The hat is hot and I sweat more, if that’s possible, when wearing it.

So many different types of landscapes.
So many different types of landscapes.
There are high points....
There are high points….
...and low points you have to climb out of. Often on rocks like this. :-(
…and low points you have to climb out of. Often on rocks like this. ๐Ÿ™
Or maybe the bear was watching me?
Or maybe the bear was watching me?

Everyone going southbound has reported bear, do I’m redoubling my efforts to hang food each night. Most of the shelters in New Jersey have secure metal bear boxes for food. Everyone uses them too.
Listening to a new book about the South Pole expedition of The Endurance. If you’ve not read about this ill fated adventure, you should. It’s so well told that while walking I forget the heat completely. I found myself afraid to get my feet wet because they might freeze. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Sometimes they stack the rocks
Sometimes they stack the rocks
So many...but only when it rains.
So many…but only when it rains.

Saturday July 12 Blue Mountain Lakes Road, 1307.4 to Gren Anderson Shelter, 1321.0

It’s rained every night for 5 evenings. It’s not been lengthy rain, but it’s wet enough that the salamanders are out. In fact it’s been a good day to observe wildlife. Today 11red salamanders, 6deer, and 1bear.
Twisted my knee a bit today. Not sure what happened. I slipped, but only a few inches and caught myself. And when I took the next step my left knee hurt. I limped until 1p when I took an extended break at the Brinks Road Shelter and rested it.
From there it was a short walk to US206 and the town of Branchville. My plan was to walk past the restaurant, get a shower, then come back to the restaurant for dinner, hop on the AT and continue. So I walked to Stokes State Forest because the guidebook said I could get shower. Which I could, at the lake shower house. Except the lake was over 2 miles away. I started to walk away. The park ranger offered to give me a ride, but I didn’t want to walk the 2 miles back. But she said there was a hiking trail right to the next shelter. I showered, washed out my clothes in the sink, then hit the brown blazed path to the Gren Anderson shelter bit was over a 1.5 mile hike, about the same distance as if is not gotten off the trail. It meant that I missed the restaurant, but enjoyed being clean. BTW, this trail may be an old section of the AT. There were certainly very old white blazes.

This is one of the tiny ones. That's a quarter beside this baby.
This is one of the tiny ones. That’s a quarter beside this baby.

Sunday July 13 Gren Anderson Shelter, 1321.0 to stealth camp near Rutherford Shelter 1329
More rain overnight, so more red salamanders,13 this morning.
My left foot hurts, and I have low energy. Hiking slow. It’s a dry section and I’m not impressed with the streams. Even after the water is filtered, it is still tea colored. I stopped in at Mashipacong Shelter and they had a much needed cashe of water hidden in the bear box.
I’d intended to go to the next shelter, but the dark skies had affected my mood and my left foot was hurting with each step. Stopped at 1p and set up camp. Slept most of afternoon listening to book. Began to rain just after dark, but I slept the night.

imageMonday July 14 stealth camp near Rutherford Shelter 1329 to Murray Cabin 1339.4
Everything is wet and it looks like more rain is on the way. Despite the amount of sleep I’ve had, it’s hard to wake up. My left foot and knee feel better, but they are not completely healed. I need to stay off them for a couple days, but I’ve got to walk out of this first. I only have a half liter of water and was a bit short on fluids last night, so if nothing else I’ve got to get to a spring or stream. I’ve taken 2 ibuprofen with breakfast. The drug upsets my stomach slightly, but does dull the pain in my foot. My knee doesn’t hurt as long as I wear my brace. It’s likely the knee started hurting because I’m favoring the foot, turning the limb slightly inward to protect it.
The humidity is at least 100% and I’m soaked in minutes. The advantage of the wetness is the red efts, red-orange salamanders. I count 62 of them as I hike and their small bodies range in size from slightly larger than a toothpick to the thickness of a thick kindergardener’s crayon. I am watching my feet the entire time to avoid stepping on them and to step between the rocks in the path.
imageI hike the 3+ miles to the High Point State Park office. They have a bathroom with real flushing toilets, a trash can just for thru hikers (everyone else has to pack out their trash) and fresh water. Water has been tight on this last section and the first thing I do is drink my fill. Then I wash my limbs and face in the sink, comb out my sweat soaked hair and rinse out my bandana. I plug in my electronics to charge and go up to the desk. While I’m talking to the two ladies, Walkabout arrives and we have a good reunion. The ladies give us a free soda!
I last saw Walkabout in Palmerton when I skipped Lehigh Gap. He’s made good time and I’m thrilled to see him. He says he’s tired, slowing down, only did 12 miles the day before. I tell him about my injury and tiredness and we agree I need to get off the trail for a couple days.
With the help of the ladies behind the desk, I evaluate my options. They have a tenting area but there are no facilities there, not even a camp store, and it’s $25. Plus it’s 2.5 miles away. Not gonna happen. The High Point Mountain Motel will pick me up, but it’s $80 a night and I’d have to pay for a resupply shuttle. Too much.

This deer practically posed for me
This deer practically posed for me

One option in my guidebook looks perfect: The Murray Cabin. It’s open only to long distance hikers and it’s about 7 hiking miles away. My guidebook gives directions from the trail. There’s no address, no phone number and while the park staff knows it exists, they only have a vague idea where it is located. I’ll have to walk 7 miles. It takes me 5+ hours at my slow rate. The rain soaks me and I’m concerned about doing further damage to my foot and/or knee.
After a shower outside and rinsing out my clothes, I sweep out the cabin. Walkabout is here before me and offers to go into town for pizza and bring it back if I’ll buy. Sounds like a deal to me! It was delicious!
Also staying at the cabin: Wiki, Flatlander, Chevy Chaffs, Lieutenant Dan and Legs. These are the same guys who I stayed with at the shelter just before Palmerton.

Foundation of the old barn, Murray Cabin.
Foundation of the old barn, Murray Cabin.

Tuesday July 15 Murray Cabin 1339.4 zero day
Wow. Half of July is already gone. Time is marching on and I’m not making many miles. I’m staying here to let my foot heal. The knee is pain free and I hope the left foot will feel much better in the morning. My plan is to nap as much as possible as I’ve been so very tired. If I keep the foot elevated, perhaps some of the swelling will go down. I’ll rest, hydrate and generally take care of myself today. The owner dropped by to check on the place and he has no problem with me doing this. By mid morning all my clothes are dry, but it’s clear it will rain more today.
I am actually quite concerned about my health. The foot pain is the only actual injury and obviously nothing is more important that your feet to a hiker. But it’s more than that. I wish I had more energy. I am doing few miles and at this rate won’t be able to hike the 100 miles a week I’ve set for myself. I need to complete before the end of September if I want to avoid the worst of the weather.
Other health related items; I lost a toenail on my left foot this week. It was from an injury several weeks ago and a new nail was growing underneath. There’s another that will go soon on my right foot. That’s 3 toenails lost to the trail so far, which seems better than most.
But it’s clear that my body isn’t well adjusted to hiking. My short legs have increased their stride, but I am passed by every hiker on the trail. I still occasionally retch in the morning, perhaps once a week, but no longer actually throw up. Some mornings I can eat breakfast, but I never fill up my stomach in the morning. I fight diarrhea daily. I find taking iron helps, but about once a week I resort to Imodium. On zero days it usually clears up of its own accord. I have no appreciable muscle aches or pains except for my feet. I’ve constantly got bug bites, the occasional bruise and minor scratches, but nothing major. This continues to be very tough. It is not an activity for the faint of heart.
And now the really great news: my dear friend Kathy has agreed to pick me up at Baxter State Park when I finish the trail! I met Kathy on a tour of Turkey and we traveled together to Egypt as well. She is newly retired, lives in the northeast and says a road trip to Katahdin sounds like fun! Bless her! I had not worked out what to do at the end. I guess I figured after hiking 2,200 miles, arranging public transportation was a cake walk. I have amazing, wonderful friends. But you are constantly reminded on the trail that things work out. I needed a cheap place to zero and here I am at a free cabin. I was running low on food supplies, but Walkabout offered to get pizza last night. I needed a ride at the end and Kathy has asked to pick me up! It’s all working out. The saying is: The Trail Provides. And you have to be part of it as well. I’ve shared food with others and dropped gear and clothing into hiker boxes (almost every hostel or trail friendly hotel had a box of free stuff for hikers. Some people almost resupply their food bags from them.) This morning I gave a foam pad to Walkabout. He’s lost so much weight–38pounds–that the hip belt on his backpack doesn’t fit anymore. There’s no more room to tighten it so all the weight of the pack is carried on his shoulders. Ouch! We rolled up the foam pad and stuck it between him and his belt. I hope it will be comfortable for him.
This is a lovely cabin on an old homestead farm. You can see the rock foundations of a few buildings. There’s a cool breeze from the porch. The owner, Jim Murray dropped by to talk and we watched a fat groundhog eating in the field. Six turkeys strolled along the edge of another field above where his 2 donkeys graze. Brightly colored birds are consuming the last of the mulberries while the black walnuts ripen nearby. This is a lovely spot to take a break. It’s rained off and on all day and I’ve taken a few short naps. I’ve tried to stay off my feet most of the day. No one has come by, even for water.

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This is Palmerton, PA

I zeroed here yesterday. Today, Delawere Water Gap and goodbye Pennsylvania. About to enter my eighth state: New Jersey!

The Jailhouse Hostel is free and located in the basement of the town borough building.
The Jailhouse Hostel is free and located in the basement of the town borough building.
Hostels are not pretty.
Hostels are not pretty, though. LOL
My partner (we won!) Walkabout and The Colonel.
My partner (we won!) Walkabout and The Colonel.
The Colonial, Walkabout and Lauren at the Palmerton Bar n
The Colonial, Walkabout and Lauren at the Palmerton Bar
Lauren
Lauren

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The park.
The park.
The park
The park

Rocksylvania & a July Fourth disaster

I am in Palmerton and my feet are sore!

Much of the trail in PA looks like this
Much of the trail in PA looks like this. I’ve learned to hate northern PA

DAILY LOG

Friday, July 4, Port Clinton pavilion 1213.7 to The Pinnacle 1223.2
Happy Fourth of July! The pavilion was swamped with people last night. Maybe 35 were here. No one wanted to camp in the storm and lots pushed on to make it to this shelter, plus most everyone from the night before stayed over. I walked back from the Fireman’s Bar about 9p, during a break in the rain. It started pouring shortly after I got back and crawled into my sleeping bag. Good sleeping weather.
It was still raining at 8a, but the forecast said it would end by noon. I’ll hike in the rain if I’m already out in it, but I’m not “die hard”ย enough to hike into the rain from a nice dry shelter. I went to the 3C restaurant with a few others and had coffee. I’d already eaten breakfast out of my (very full) food bag.

The rain has darkened my mood, but there’s something else, too. Last night I got an email from my dear friend and short time hiking partner, Hank. He’s off the trail. He must have been around the 1,400 mile mark. The weather has been very hot and he felt lightheaded. Probably heat exhaustion, something we all risk in July. I know he’s pushed himself pretty hard and an earlier email indicated he’d not been enjoying the hike much lately. On the one hand, I know that this is HIS hike. No one else has any say, nor should they. If he says it’s over, I completely support his decision and believe he’s the only person who knows the right course of action for him. I’m proud of his accomplishment and he should be too.
And on the other hand, I’m heart broken. I wanted him to complete. He’s a better hiker than I am. I take three steps for his two and he can carry more weight and walk farther than I can. His equipment was adequate to the task and he was not overloaded. He’s kept a good attitude and encouraged those around him. If I’d have bet, I would have said his odds of finishing were better than mine. Much better.
But as my dear friend Skittles told me, the secret to finishing the AT is to want to be on the trail, every day, more than you want to do anything else.

Typical campsite with a view.
Typical campsite with a view.

I finally hiked out around 11:30. My goal was 10 miles to The Pinnacle, the highest spot in Pennsylvania. Others were joining me there and we hoped we could see fireworks from several towns simultaneously. First there was the obligatory 1,200 ft climb out of the river valley to up (another?) Blue Mountain. The trail was rocky. Most of it was just enough that you had to watch every step. Parts were a boulder hop. (Turns out Blue Mountain is a very long mountain range and the AT follows it for a huge section of the AT)
I took an extended break and got water at the Windsor Furnace shelter, then did the final four miles to the Pinnacle. THAT was real rocks and they were so bad that I wrote a song.

Pennsylvania, Rocksylvania,
Why do you have to file the stones so sharp?
Pennsylvania, Rocksylvania,
The place where your shoes will fall apart!

When boulder hopping, there is no stopping,
Because the rocks will roll beneath your feet.
When climbing over another boulder,
You’re likely to land upon your seat!

Pennsylvania, Rocksylvania,
Do you really have to file the stones so sharp?
Pennsylvania, Rocksylvania,
Hiking here just doesn’t seem so smart!

I’m sure it’s a top ten, AT hit. Not! But I do suspect the trail maintainers file the stones to a point when hikers aren’t looking.
The last four miles were very tough, but as a bonus, found my first ripe blueberries! Yum!

FINALLY I made it to The Pinnacle. I expected to see signs saying “no camping” but there were none. In fact, there appeared to be campsites and fire rings. I set up the tent, made bacon roll ups (honestly, shelf stable bacon is the best thing to happen to backpacking since Dry Down) and claimed a spot on the cliff. We were all laughing and talking. The view was incredible. Someone started blasting the song Born in the USA. It promised to be an amazing evening.
And then a guy yelled that they thought someone fell. We turned off the music. Two guys headed down the side of the cliff. Mocha Pot had fallen about 40 feet then rolled another 25. He was bleeding from a cut in his head, had a nose bleed and an obvious concussion (he kept asking the same questions over and over). I have first aid training, but simply did not feel I could get to him safely. Two others were already at his side. There were no obvious breaks in his limbs, but it hurt when he tried to sit up or take a deep breath. We chose not to move him and just treat for shock (keep him warm with a sleeping bag, monitor vitals). We called 911 and it took an hour and a half for 30 rescues personnel to arrive with full climbing gear and medical equipment. It was 2a before they had him stable, on a backboard and off the cliff by helicopter. We later found he had 6 broken ribs, 2 cracked vertebrae, a lacerated spleen, and a concussion. He needed surgery for the spleen. He will be pretty uncomfortable for several weeks and off the trail for the season. But he should completely recover. I don’t suppose I’ll get another update on his condition. While it was an awful thing to happen, I can say that the group responded well and made good decisions. We did manage to see fireworks in about 8 towns in the valley below, but it was hard to enjoy it while waiting for the emergency crews. It was a short night.

This is the group at The Pinnacle, I snapped this seconds before Mocha Pot fell.....
This is the group at The Pinnacle, I snapped this seconds before Mocha Pot fell…..
....and this was the view.
….and this was the view. Imagine it with 8 sets of fireworks.

Saturday July 5. The Pinnacle 1223.2 to Eckville Shelter 1228.5
It was hard to get up. Hiked out at 8a, the first to leave, walking past a dozen hikers, cowboy camping (sleeping with no tent).
There had been no water on the Pinnacle, so I was running low. I didn’t see the first spring (turns out no one found it. Does it exist?), but filled up at Panther stream. My plan was just to stop for a shower at Eckville shelter, but after I got there I got clean, washed clothes, charged my electronics….I decided to stay. Most of the group from last night arrived, a few at a time, so that we all shared a huge lunch, napped, talked. A nice contrast to last night. I took the time to mend my pack cover, air out my sleeping bag and jacket, and to wash down my tent floor and air mattress.

Kicking back at the Eckviller shelter the white building at left is the caretakers home
Kicking back at the Eckville shelter. The white building at left is the caretakers home. The little building behind is the hostel
Stevie Wander kicks back...or should I say up?
Stevie Wander kicks back…or should I say up?

Turkey, Pope, Stevie Wander, Nora and others moved on. I took a nap after they left. Staying here: Space Train (getting off the trail tomorrow, was just hiking with a friend), Potatoes, Bliss (she went to the hospital with Mocha Pot last night. She seems to have lost her sleeping bag. Her’s was the bag we used to keep him warm and it went with him to the hospital and didn’t come back. Space Train was getting off the trail and gave his to her). Other hikers showed up. Slowski (section hiker with 1400 miles done), Race Walker (annoying old man), Tortellini, Lauren and her dog Chelsea (she started 2 days ago and has a month to hike. Her dog is an Australian Shepard), Neon, Rod & Real, Obsidian (from Germany), Frankie the Sleeper (an anesthesiologist who is very funny) and others. The shelter sleeps 6 and the rest of us are tenting. The shelter manager is a bit grumpy and we’ve all decided to leave him alone. He’s not said a kind word to any of us. If you ask a question he will bite your head off.

Sunday July 6, Eckville Shelter 1228.5 to Blue Mountain Summit Restaurant, 1240.0
Rocks and more rocks! The day started with the obligatory 1,200 ft climb out of the gap. Then the boulder hopping began. It was throughout the day, but there was a nonstop 3 mile stretch that I didn’t think would ever end. I’m getting better at rock hopping, which takes balance and planning. But it’s exhausting. The difference in these rocks is that so many are pointed. You learn to balance on the edges. Walking on all these hard surfaces really makes my feet ache at the end of the day and this is a dry section, so there are few streams to stand in and cool off your feet. This is very difficult. (In a small spring you can carry water off to the sidelines and pour it on your feet, but you’d never soak them in the pool of the spring. That’s rude. Even to clean up with a bandana I carry water a few feet away to wash up.)

My burger
My burger

My plan had been to go to Tripoli Campsite (locally pronounced Tri POH lee), but noticed a restaurant, the Blue Mountain Summit, which is also a B&B. There was an outdoor bar. Smoky the Beard and Smurf were already there. I ordered a summer shandy from our bartender, Margo, and took her suggestion of the Black & Bleu Burger with fries. ย (Margo has recently gotten a clean bill of health from breast cancer. What an inspiration!) There was a band setting up, We 3. They did mostly Beatles tunes. Other hikers stopped by until we took over one side of the outdoor bar: Obsidian (German hiker who’s girlfriend will be visiting him in New York for a week soon), Rod & Real (newly retired, social worker, though I never would have guessed this was his profession), Bliss, and Potatoes. The owner, Ken, told us we could camp in the yard if we wanted and three of us took him up on it. The music was great, the beer cold and the conversation lively. A perfect night.

Taking over the outdoor bar: Obsidian, Smoky the Beard, Bliss and Potatoes.
Taking over the outdoor bar: Obsidian, Smoky the Beard, Bliss and Potatoes.
The restaurant where I stayed the night. It was very early morning and still a bit dark.
The restaurant where I stayed the night. It was very early morning and still a bit dark.

Monday July 7, Blue Mountain Summit Restaurant, 1240.0 to Outerbridge Shelter, 1252.7
Remember yesterday when I said there were rocks? Those were just a preview for the real show. This was my most difficult day since March and dangerous winter weather (which seems like a long time ago).
I was the last of the three of us out of the yard, but still started by 6:30a. It was going to be a hot one in a dry stretch of trail. The first 1.5 miles was so easy I should have known it was about to get seriously difficult.
The rocks hit and I seriously slowed down. A couple passed me and I was surprised to see them five minutes later watching me negotiate a long section of boulders. My ego kicked in and I decided I must be doingwell if they werehiiin watching. When I came up to them I smiled broadly. They just looked at me incredulously. “So, you saw the bear, right?” I hadn’t. I was so focused on placing my feet, balancing on the rocks and not falling that I’d walked within10 feet of a bear. OMG.
We all hiked on and soon began to climb up a huge rock outcropping that came to a point—The Knifes Edge. It was a 150 yard balancing act and quite difficult. My hiking poles were useless as I needed my hands free for climbing. Exhausted, I was happy to see Smurf and Smoky the Beard at the far end. I took a short break with them as they broke camp. They and Potatoes had camped there last night after they left the bar. They had done the climb after dark, after sharing 2-3 pitchers of beer, wearing headlamps. Can you say dangerous?

Cross The Knifes Edge
Crossing The Knifes Edge
Crossing The Knifes Edge
Crossing The Knifes Edge
The vies from The Knifes Edge.
The view from The Knifes Edge.

My guidebook is helpful for judging distance and general topography, but it’s no help with determining difficulty of an individual peak or rockiness of a section. The problem with having successfully completed The Knifes Edge was that I immediately assumed that was the worst the day had to offer. Not true. Next came Bear Rocks, only tough because it came immediately after. Then a couple miles later was Bake Oven Knob. I guess in my mind I thought “Easy” Bake Oven, with an emphasis on the word “easy.” It looks like the reject pile from a granite quarry, as though a giant threw huge, badly cut stones into a haphazard pile a half mile long. There were no level surfaces, few trail markings and–worst of all–not all the stones are stable. Every step had to be tested, my hiking holes useless as I crawled on hands, knees and scooted on my butt from one rock to the next, in full sun. I had to stop to eat and rehydrate halfway through. I almost cried when it was over. It’s the worst climb I’ve done so far.

Bake Oven Knob Shelter with Smurf (hat) and Smoky the Beard.
Bake Oven Knob Shelter with Smurf (hat) and Smoky the Beard.

The next water source was the Bake Oven Knob Shelter, 1245.9. It was 90F, so I needed to focus on hydration, but in July, water sources in Pennsylvania begin to go dry. This shelter, one of the oldest on the trail, built in 1937, has a series of cascading springs. The first 2 were dry, but the third, roughly a third of a mile down, held a small pool. I drank to capacity and brought up more water to filter and carry on. It was noon when I arrived. The realization that I’d gone almost 6 miles in 5.5 hours was daunting, and indicates the level of difficulty. I ate lunch and took a much needed rest until 1:30, but still had miles to go, so I pushed on. My food bag was getting light, so I needed to get near Palmerton to resupply the next day.

I got to snack on blueberries!
I got to snack on blueberries!

It took until 6:30 for me to cover the remaining miles. Most was rocky up to the last mile and I lost count of the boulder fields, though one remains memorable. The side of the mountain was bare of trees. Boulders covered the area, ranging in size from that of an end table to the size of a car. The trail was poorly marked and there were few level surfaces. It was horrible, particular late in the day when I was already tired.
The group at the shelter had saved me a spot inside. I was grateful for the consideration as the skies were clouding. It was stifling hot in the shelter and we had trouble falling asleep. Flashes of heat lightening were distracting. By midnight the downpour started, accompanied by lightening and thunder. I felt lucky to be under a roof. The temperature dropped 10 degrees immediately and it instantly became possible to sleep.

Outerbridge Shelter
Outerbridge Shelter

Staying here in the shelter were four guys hiking together: Legs, Chevy Chaff, Lieutenant Dan, and Flatlander.

Tuesday, July 8. Hitch hiked into Palmerton, PA 1253.9
I hiked to the toad, less than 2 miles. Then easily got a ride into town. Stayed at the Jail House Hostel, located in the basement of the Borough Office. Shower, laundry, resupply, and a good dinner! Makes me feel like a human again!

The the Jailhouse Hostel turns out never to have been used as a jail, but it's in the basement of this building.
The Jailhouse Hostel turns out never to have been used as a jail. It’s in the basement of this building.
Cross a bridge to get to the highway that leads to Pakmerton. This is above a Superfund trailhead that is much improved from the 1990s when Bill Bryson wrote A Walk in the Woods.
Cross a bridge to get to the highway that leads to Pakmerton. This is above a Superfund trailhead that is much improved from the 1990s when Bill Bryson wrote A Walk in the Woods.
Right side off the bridge
Right side off the bridge
Left side
Left side

Leaving Port Clinton, PA just as soon as the storm is over

Hikers waiting out the storm.
Hikers waiting out the storm. Doc, Bones, The Pope, unknown, Jellybean, Stevie Wander, Snorlax, Potatoes.

I’m currently waiting out a storm in the Fireman’s Bar. There are 22 of us staying in the pavilion nearby and it looks like the worst of the storm will be south of us. Fortunately. I plan to hike out in the morning and take advantage of cooler temperatures. Also hope the additional rain will resupply this dry section of trail.

DAILY LOG

Saturday, June 28, Duncannon, PA
In short, I made a mistake. A dear friend from high school was sending me a package here at The Doyle, a “classic” AT stop. And by classic, I mean run down, though operated by kindly, endearing folks. The problem is that I was really tired when I told him it’d take me a week to get from Boiling Springs to here. It took 3 days. So the package he sent–with a food supplement I’m trying out–could not have arrived yet. Stupid! But the folks at The Doyle agreed to forward it to my next hostel stop, about 100 miles from here. What I hate is that I think this supplement is helping me recover and–let’s face it–I can use all the help I can get. I have over 1,000 miles to go and only 3 months to do it in if I don’t want to flip flop. And I don’t.
I had lunch at The Doyle, caught up with a few friends, like City Slicka (who said, “I didn’t think you’d get this far.” Sigh. I get it. I don’t look like a hiker). Then to the Sonny Daze laundry to wash clothes. Surprisingly, they had no restroom and I needed to wash the clothing I was wearing. Everyone else was in the same boat. So we took turns using a dark corner to change clothes in. This is the hiker life! So glamorous!
I could have stayed at The Doyle, but it didn’t appear they had air conditioning, the place looked really run down and the flies in the dining room were horrible. My tent would probably be a better option. So I walked the 2 miles to the edge of town to the Riverside Campground. Generally, I wouldn’t pay to camp, but the $5 fee included a shower.
It was a Saturday night, so the camp was full, lots of music competing for attention. But the weather was clear and a breeze coming off the Susquehanna River. All things are possible with tolerance…. and earplugs.
But before sleep, Tonto, a retired section hiker who just has a couple hundred miles to go, gave us an idea of the next 1,000 miles. Listening along side me were Aquaman (from Maine, newly divorced, nearing 30) and Hansel & Gretel ( brother and sister, mid 20’s, just sold their coffee shop/cafe).

The Doyle is a classic, but no air conditioning and too many flues in the dining room.
The Doyle is a classic, but no air conditioning and too many flues in the dining room.

Sunday, June 29, Duncannon, PA to Peters Mt Shelter, 1154.1
I didn’t sleep well. First, it was hot. There had been a breeze coming off the Susquehanna River, ย but it died at dusk. I finally pushed my blow up pad aside and slept directly on the floor of my tent, the earth being cooler than the plastic mattress. Summer is here and the dog days, and nights, have started. Next were the trains. I didn’t mind so much that so many came by, nor that the tracks are along the edge of the campground. What I minded is that they each blew their horns. Loudly and repeatedly. I’m sure it’s a legal requirement, but not one that helped me out. Finally, there was a motion sensor on the light to the bath house. The tenting area was right in front of that. I’d have been ok if the light had stayed either on or off, but it turned off and on all night. Ugh!
I was out of camp about 7a. First there was a mile of road walking to cross two bridges. Then came another mile which included the 1,000 foot climb up Peters Mountain. The rest of the day (and half the next) was spent walking the spine of the mountain. The third mile was rocky and included 3-4 hand-over-hand climbs and a series of boulder hops and rock scrambles. By the time I hit the Clark Ferry shelter, I was exhausted and ready for a rest. Even if I had not been, it was the only reliable water for the next 14 miles. There was possibly water at the next shelter in 7 miles, but my guidebook listed it as unreliable. The Ridge Runner had said the source was still running, but was at the bottom of 300 stone steps. Neither prospect sounded appealing. I drank water until I had to let out the pack’s waist strap. Then I filtered water into my three bottles (roughly 1.5liters) and filled my 64 ounce bladder. Along with the recent resupply of food, it made for a heavy load on the rocky path. Ouch.

The climb out of the valley began here.
The climb out of the valley began here.
This is about 1,200ft later
This is about 1,200ft later

By the time I got to the shelter, my feet ached. The Peters Mountain Shelter is a beautiful 2 story building, but the flies were so bad I set up my tent despite the chance of rain.
Lots of people came to the shelter including Hansel & Gretel, City Slicka, Butterfly (finishing the trail where she left off last year), Toasted Toad (another drinker with a hiking problem), Slayer and her boyfriend (the former Chatty Cathy and Mute Moe), Dad ( who is actually quite young, but gives fatherly advice), Neon (I’ve never heard him say a word, but he has a bright neon green streak in his hair), and many more. It was a fun, happy group and there was lots of laughter. But I wasn’t among them. Too tired. Initially I was just going to rest and elevate my feet, but I simply couldn’t stay awake and missed out on all the fun. Still, their laughter colored my dreams and made the stay pleasant anyway.

Monday June 30, Peters Mt Shelter, 1154.1 to Yellow Springs Village Campsite, 1167.5
As usual I was out by 7a. On hot days I should be smarter and leave earlier, but it’s hard to start moving before 6a, even with 12 (fairly solid) hours of sleep.
The skies were overcast and the air tasted of rain. I put my electronics in their waterproof cases and covered my pack. I did it as a talisman to ward off the rain, much as you carry an umbrella so you won’t need one.
The trail continued to be a mostly flat ridge (translation: you go up and down the same 100 feet a couple dozen times) punctuated with rocky sections for 5 miles, then the 6th mile was a 1,000 foot decent to PA 325 where a trail angel named Laura was set up with cold drinks, baloney sandwiches and Rice Krispie Treats. It’s amazing how such simple fare can feed both your body and soul. Laura volunteers at the AT Museum, but this was the first year she had set up with food. She’s retired, clearly on a fixed and limited income, but is so impressed with the very thought of hiking almost 2,200 miles, that she wanted to contribute. I’ve yet to meet a trail angel who was well off, financially. When you’re hitchhiking, it’s never the shinny new cars that stop for you. It’s the second hand vehicles with a driver working for minimum wage or a retiree. Those with money may give to tax deductible charities, but they don’t give aid to individuals.
So the break was wonderful but eventually it was time to move on….and up. It was a steady 1.5 mile climb up Stony Mountain. Then a dip and the trail continued along the spine of Sharp Mountain. According to my map, this part of the trail was the original Dauphin-Pottsville stagecoach line in the 1800’s.

Found this little guy in the cold fire pit.
Found this little guy in the cold fire pit.

I stopped at the campsite near the remains of Yellow Springs Village. Considering the moderate terrain, I should have gone further, but it was a grassy, open site with enough of a breeze to keep down the mosquitoes, which have been thick all day. There was even a mail box with a camp logbook. I did have to be careful, though. There were honey bees who were far too interested in my food bag and even my tent. I ended up camping alone.

Tuesday July 1, Yellow Springs Village Campsite, 1167.5 to half way up Blue Mountain, 1180
There was a fire newt in the fire ring this morning. I never have a fire at night, so he was in no danger from me. I assume the decaying wood attracted small bugs for his breakfast. I moved him to the woods where he’d be far safer.

The orchids are past their prime.
The orchids are past their prime.

The first 6 miles is fairly flat, but with just enough rocks that you must constantly watch where you put your feet. The humidity is 100% and I’m not sure if I’m wet from condensation or sweat. Probably both. I’ve not come across a nice enough stream to wash out my shirt since my last laundry, so I probably smell. The path is quite damp, even muddy in spots, so must have rained here yesterday.
I take my five mile break at a campsite near Rausch Shelter. This area once had coal mining and the edge of the camp is an old pile of coal,12 feet high. Along the edge are lady slipper orchids, though the flowers are past.

A huge forgotten pile of coal.
A huge, forgotten pile of coal.

July 1. As of today I’ve been on the trail for four months. FOUR MONTHS! I’m moving a bit faster than when I started, but still a slow hiker, compared to the average. But who cares! The question is, how much longer? There’s just over 1000 miles to go. In fact, I’ll drop below that mark tomorrow shortly before the William Penn Shelter.

And I’ll be glad to get there because that’s the next water. I carried 1.5 liters, thinking I’d get within 3-4 miles of the next shelter. But I got half way up Blue Mountain (not the one in Jamaica with the great coffee) and ran out of steam. It was only 4:30, but the temperature was near 95F, there’s rocks everywhere, and I was worn out. That put me 6 miles from the shelter. And the water. Not as close as would be comfortable.

This is a hiker doing laundry out in the woods. Glamorous life, no?
This is a hiker doing laundry out in the woods. Glamorous life, no?
Every state you run across lovely pieces of history like this.
Every state you run across lovely pieces of history like this.

Wednesday, July 2 halfway up Blue Mountain, 1180 to Port Clinton Pavilion, 1213.7
Too hot to sleep. I took off most of my clothes, ditched the sleeping pad and lay on my back directly on the tent floor, seeking any coolness I could find.
Had to force myself to get out of bed. It was six miles to the nearest water and the temperature was already 80F at 7a. I am sweating just lying around and only have a liter of water to start the day. It’s a rocky climb and the rest of the trail alternates between clear sections and rocks. There’s a large section of boulders to cross. The bugs have been getting progressively worse the last few days. You can’t stand still without fighting them. The deer flies are the most painful, but it’s the tiny flies I hate the most. They fly straight into your eyes. I’ve dug three from my eyes already. If I don’t find a mosquito net for my head, I may lose my mind! The last three outfitters were out.
I finally get to the shelter and the water is .2 from the trail. I drink 64 ounces of water–everything I can hold without getting sick. I clean up as best I can, washing my arms and legs, even rinsing my hair. I rinse my shirt and squeeze out as much as I can. In the heat, underarm chaffing is always a problem and a clean shirt and body are the first defense. My underarms are red and sore.

A Trail angel had left ice cream at this bridge, but it was all gone when I arrived.  :-(
A Trail Angel had left ice cream at this bridge, but it was all gone when I arrived. ๐Ÿ™

I run into Smoky the Beard and Smurf. I ask them if they’ve lost a knife I picked up on the trail. They know who’s it is and agree to take it. We discuss our plans for the day. It’s not even noon and too hot to hike. I am low on supplies and need to go into Pine Grove. They are considering the same.
I leave before them and hike the 2 miles to PA 645. It’s 3.5 miles to town and I walk 1.5 of it before a black truck pulls over. In the back are Smurf and Smoky the Beard! The driver is a woman from Alabama. She takes me to the edge of town, then continues on with the two men to highway 81.
I walk to the laundry where I meet another of the German couples hiking the trail. Again, there’s no bathroom and I find a dark corner and change into the cleanest clothes, my dry set, so I can wash my hiking clothes. The machine selling soap eats my quarters and there’s no one to complain too. There is also no air conditioning. Even the ceiling fans don’t work. It’s stifling. I wash my clothes with the last of my Dr Bonner’s Camp soap.
While my clothes were washing, I plugged in my electronics. My phone was too low to even make a call. I went first to the convenience store across the street, then the pharmacy. I don’t get everything on my list, but the grocery store is farther away than I want to walk.
There’s an Italian restaurant just down the street and I head there for a late lunch and to continue to charge my phone. I try to develop a rapport with the waitress and others at the bar. I need to appear normal and safe and someone trustworthy if I want to get a ride bIt’s obvious from my backpack that I’m a hiker. Near the end of my meal, I casually ask if anyone is going south of town. I could go back to the trail at 645 where I got off or go out 501 to the shelter just off the trail (about 4.5 miles). No one is going that way. But a retired gentleman says he’s going to Port Clinton and could drop me off at the tenting pavilion. It would mean skipping about 26 miles of the trail, but it’s northern Pennsylvania, the place where your boots die in the rocks, not to mention your knees. It’s also a very dry section. It could take me 3 days to cross this terrain. As a kicker, it’s started to rain. I’m easily sold on the idea.

Butterfly weed
Butterfly weed

It thunderstorms the entire way and I’m relieved not to be in it. It doesn’t last long enough to cool things off. It stops as we get to Port Clinton and I force the man to take some gas money for the trip. The pavilion is fairly full. So far no one has set up a tent. They are waiting for the rain to stop. I claimed a spot on the floor immediately. There turned out to be 22 people overnight.
City Slicka and another hiker were planning to go into the Cabelas the next day for new shoes. The rocks had done theirs in. I need a few things too. If we are lucky, the outfitters may come pick us up.
After an hour several of the hikers say they are going to the Fireman’s Bar, located in the same building as the volunteer firehouse. It’s technically a private club, but they are very accommodating to hikers. Beers on tap are $1.25 and they have decent bar snacks. I have beer and dinner for $7. I walk back just before dark and am asleep by 9p. The pavilion is just below the highway, but earplugs help. I just finished books: American Gods by Neil Gaiman (amazing novel, sci-fi) and Her Royal Spyness (light but funny murder mystery set in 1930’s London). Last night I started The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett. I only heard the first 15-20 minutes before I fell asleep, but so far it’s just like the film.

Thursday, July 3 Port Clinton pavilion, zero day
A productive day. First breakfast at 3C’s Family Restaurant. The food was good and very reasonably priced with great service. But “family” here seems to mean right-wing, Republican, religious and Obama Hater. (seriously, the comments on the walls made their views very clear) Funny. “Family” means something entirely different in Atlanta. ๐Ÿ˜‰
Lots of hikers were eating breakfast and a section hiker with a car, Space Train, offered to take me to the outfitters and Walmart. I got everything on my list (actually, too much), especially a mesh head net for bugs. I swear if I didn’t get one soon I would have lost my mind!
When I got back to the pavilion several hikers were on their way to go swimming in the river. I’d already been told it was warm as bath water, so I stayed and with the aid of an old fashioned pump, washed my hair and body. It felt wonderful! And one of the women here let me use her shampoo, rather than just camp soap, which never rinses out as well. Actually there are 3 other female hikers here and I’m shocked at what all they are carrying: shampoo, razors, deodorant, cotton balls, Q-tips, baby powder, moisturizer, a swimsuit, extra clothes. One even had make up! Maybe I’m just a slouch, but all that stuff weighs too much for me to carry. I’m taking a vacation from all that. I’m not saying it’s a good look, just the only look I can handle now. (Later I found out one of the women had only hiked 20 miles and quit today. Another is a section hiker. I feel better already). BTW, I’m growing out my gray hair. It’s been about 5 months since I touched up the roots. It’s obvious and not exactly attractive. When I started playing with hair color I may have been fighting premature gray, but now it’s right-on-time gray. Time to let it show.

I’ve been thinking about how much longer I’m going to be on the trail. Don’t worry. I’m not considering quitting, though we all have our moments. ;-). This is hard, but it’s not really the hiking anymore. I’m used to that by now. I’ve accepted that I’m slow and that I don’t deal with the heat, rocks or bugs all that well. But no one likes that part. I’m going as fast as my short little legs can carry me. And I’ve done far more than most who attempt the AT. I’ve got less than 1,000 miles to finish. At roughly 100 miles a week, that’s just 10 weeks, which puts me finishing mid-September. (Late September is worst case, I think). All I have to do is keep walking. It’s just time and walking now. Don’t get hurt and I can make it. Wow. I always said I would. I believed I could. But now I’m doing it. Even I’m a bit surprised.

The weather is ominous outside. There’s a hurricane near Hatteras and we are seeing the edge of it. Frankly, I hope it’s a strong enough front to bring in cooler weather. Hardly anyone hiked out today. Those who did were going to a shelter 5 miles away. The forecast says it will be cooler the next three days with no rain. City Slicka says we should try to get through the remaining rocks between here and the Delaware Water Gap while the weather is favorable. I wouldn’t want to climb those in the rain, so will do my best to move along in the morning.

Mostly, the trail is in the woods, but sometimes through fields like this.
Mostly, the trail is in the woods, but sometimes through fields like this.