Wednesday, July 23, 2008
A morning update from our intrepid hiker... I find it hard to believe, but today will be their last day in NJ! Apparently NJ has been a big hit with the hiking crowd, especially after the rocks of Pennsylvania. According to Shawn, "PA is the old and busted, and NJ is the new hotness." Of course, as a former Jersey girl, I could have told him that.... His NJ adventures included a send-off from his family at the Delaware Water Gap (photos to come), a call to me from the top of the trail near my favorite camp, Fairview Lake (my LTC folks will appreciate that), and dinner and a grocery store run last night with my parents in Vernon, NJ. Yesterday, during the hottest part of the day, Shawn and Zen sat in an air-conditioned hotel room watching very dated movies, and making a couple calls to me to search IMDB for casting information... Today, he and Zen will hike 10 miles and be in NY, and one state closer to Maine!
Friday, July 18, 2008
Hi all from PA's last stand. I'm writing from my sister Kim and her husband Daryl's house a few miles from the trail, enjoying the first home cooking I've had in months. Lots of food to fatten up with and a little rest period while another heat wave rolls through - temps are supposed to get into the mid-90s today, with high humidity. Not the best weather for hiking, so Zen and Donny (two fellow thru-ers with me) are saying the word for today is "swimming." As in swimming in the Delaware River. The river flows parallel to the trail through the picturesque Delaware Water Gap National Rec. Area, the last of the Natl Park Service units we will travel thru on our way north. The federal government bought up the lands along the river in the 50s and 60s in anticipation of putting a large dam at the Water Gap, but 30 years of sustained opposition to the project finally caused it to be killed in 1992. As a result, the Delaware remains one of the largest undammed rivers in the US, and it is a pleasure to tube or canoe. Also interesting to know that I could just stay in a tube and eventually float to the riverfront parcel in my Philadelphia neighborhood of Fishtown, where various forces have been trying to put a giant slots casino before encountering similar public opposition. Hopefully it won't take 30 years to kill that bad idea. But I digress. Speaking of pleasures, its nice to have completed PA, one of the longer sections of the trail. I feel like I may have given it a bad rap in my previous post, but 140 miles of rocks can really get your anger up. I can say that the Superfund climb out of Palmerton was really "super-fun," with exposed rock climbs and views all around. Maybe they should allow zinc smelting along other parts of the trail to open it up a bit. So after swimming, we will continue across the river and into New Jersey, hoping to stay near Sunfish Pond tonight. This pond is the southernmost glacial pond on the trail, visibly marking where the trail enters the area once covered by an ice-sheet. From here on out, many ponds and lakes and marshes (and mosquitos) will greet us, and instead of cobbles and loose rock that the freeze-thaw cycle gives PA, sheets of rock to walk on and exposed roots to trip over. But most thru-hikers are looking forward to another milestone New Jersey represents: the deli-to-deli hike that occurs in New Jersey and New York, where lots of delis and other eateries exist near the trail. So, bring on the reubens!
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Hi to all from Palmerton, PA, mile 1,245, and where the trail crosses the Lehigh River, for those of you Pennsy dwellers. The town is a delight, with lots of cheap restaurants, two grocers, laundromats, etc. And the borough's government is nice enough to let hikers stay and shower for free in the basement of Borough Hall (the former jail). Sitting here in the library right now, housed in a beautiful old bank building. All of the PA towns have been good stops, which is important for morale since the trail here has turned into a nightmare. After Duncannon, the AT climbs up the blue ridge, here called Blue Mountain, and stays on it for the rest of PA. And that's where the trouble starts. One word: rocks. Everyone knew PA would be rocky, but I don't think anyone guessed just how rocky it would be. Most of each day is spent walking, stumbling, hopping, and falling across endless piles of rocks of varying looseness and size. At its worse it's pure bouldering, walking on top rock ledges slanted 45 degrees for a mile or more. At best, the trail follows old forest roads that still have some minimum amount of loose rocks, usually with the pointy end facing up. My boots, new since Duncannon are already beat up. Add in the heat and humidity of July in southeast PA. Sprinkle with thousands and thousands of gypsy moths flitting around in your face. Then subtract the water, since the rocky soil drains so easily and the area is under-supplied by rain this year. Most decent water sources require walking a half-mile steeply down off the ridge, then carrying it all back up. The real high, or low, point will be the climb out of Palmerton - the toughest part of the trail until New Hampshire. It is straight up a rocky ledge, one thousand feet in a half-mile, without any shade. No plants grow there because of heavy-metals contamination by a former zinc smelting operation - its actually an EPA-administered Superfund site. All part of PA's industrial past, which is not a new thing on the trail. Last week, we walked through a ghost mining town, right past a few culm piles and mine entrances seeping out orange acid mine-drainage into the water system. The rocks and envrionmental problems aren't just the only thing intimidating about PA. The southerners amongst us are discovering that brusque curtness that Yankees are known for, and there's more garbage and grafitti along the trail than we've seen elsewhere. And then there's the gunfire - everyone is astounded by the amount we've heard since entering PA. There's been gunshots every day, both day and night, much more than heard in any part of the South. Its especially disconcerting given that the hunting season hasn't started yet. Some of the hikers took a side trip to Cabella's giant flagship store near Hamburg, PA and were amazed at this 250,000 square foot retail "experience", complete with an enormous gun selection and hundreds of stuffed versions of the animals we aren't seeing on the trail. No doubt about it, PA loves guns. Fortunately for the state's reputation, the views over farmland are truly beautiful and PA's town stops have been pleasant and quirky. Allen and Jeff, two friends from high school/college, joined me for 30 miles of hiking. After 14 miles of rocks and heat the first day, we stopped at little Port Clinton and its collection of lawn ornaments. Had the biggest cheesesteak I've ever seen at the Port Clinton Hotel. The next night we climbed and camped at the Pinnacle, which may just be the best viewpoint along the AT in PA. Had great fun watching a small town's fireworks display from 1000 feet above the town. After Jeff and Allen took off, I've been traveling with Zen, The Thinker, and Vashon, thru-ers who have never been thru PA except on foot. We stopped for beers and live music at a restaurant where the trail crosses Rt. 309, and landed here in Palmerton last night for more good food. So, from here its just 37 miles to Delaware Water Gap and the end of PA. I will be visiting with my immediate family there, eagerly anticipating home cooking and a place to rest before pushing on. Like everyone else, I know I'm excited about entering New Jersey. For me it means the start of walking away from home, but I'm looking forward to seeing places I haven't before and getting up into the bigger mountains of New England.
Monday, July 07, 2008
Hi again. I've returned to the trail after my few days off in Philadelphia and am enjoying a beer and the free internet access at the Doyle Hotel and Bar in Duncannon, PA. This is a great town for hikers, a real town with laundromat and cheap hotel and a real bar. The Southern towns never had much in the way of bars. The first decent looking bar appeared in Boiling Springs, PA, but it was pretty upscale with lots of brass and country club furnishings - not exactly hiker digs. It was like being in that movie Caddyshack, and I'm Rodney Dangerfield. So, the Doyle is a great find. I took the train from Philly to Harrisburg and cabbed it to Duncannon. I will stay at a campground tonight on the edge of town and hike out tomorrow morning. The weather looks terrible for hiking - hazy hot and humid with plenty of thunderstorms all this week. Hopefully there will at least be a breeze on the ridgetops. Supposedly, the famous (or infamous) rocks of Pennsylvania begin after Duncannon. I've switched to my second pair of shoes and am feeling confident the new shoes will help the dulling pain in my soles that arose last week after my long mileage days. I know it may seem to some readers of this blog that all I'm doing out here is partying, but try and remember that its usually a week or more of solid hiking in between posts and when I get to a computer I tend to write about what I'm doing in town that day, which is often partying. Some folks from work asked me where is the introspection? Where is this alone-in-the-wilderness period? Well, I can honestly say it hasn't been that introspective yet. I'm discovering the Trail has several phases to it. The first part, the race to Damascus for the Trail Days festival was a physical challenge - 500 miles to toughen the body up. The second phase was the 500 miles of Virginia and this part was the mental challenge. Everyone is physically fit for Virginia, but the heat, less-than-spectacular scenery, never-ending forest, and lack of milestones was a trial for the mind to get through. I feel we've entered a third phase since Harpers Ferry, and I've yet to define it. It may be an introspective phase, it may not. Stay tuned. I can say that one challenge for me personally during this phase is visiting home. It was great to see Elizabeth and friends and my house and sweet kitteh Camille, and it was even fun to experience the disorientation of suddenly being in a huge city after being in the woods for so long. (We went out to a crowded restaurant for breakfast and all I could do was stare at all the other people.) And its such a nice feeling being at home and being able to relax and spend time with Elizabeth in a domestic environment - I could easily imagine saying I've had a great experience, hanging up my pack and calling it quits. But I want to finish this trail badly. Psychologically it will get tough. I've been walking towards home until now, but now that changes. I'll have to change my focus - instead of home on the horizon, it will be New England, and eventually Mt. Katahdin itself will rise larger and larger in the mind.
Sunday, July 06, 2008
Hello all. I'm sitting in an internet cafe off the trail - waaay off the trail. I'm back in Philadelphia, spending a few days at home. I'd say its rest time, but we're walking around a ton and the distractions of the city are many to someone who has grown used to the quiet of the woods. But it is nice to spend time with Elizabeth at home, as we (well mostly me) eat our way across town today. I left Harpers Ferry fairly quickly - while it certainly is a very beautiful and historic place, it is not a very hiker-friendly town. No groceries, no drug store, no laundromat, no hostel, no central meeting place. The Appalachian Trail Conference has its headquarters there with a small lounge, but most hikers spend a half-day at best in town because there's no place to stay. Pushing on did give me the opportunity to race to Duncannon, PA and take a train from nearby Harrisburg to Philadelphia on July 4th, surprising Elizabeth, who didn't plan on seeing me until the 5th. She was quite surprised when I called her, described how I missed her, said I wished I could be there, then knocked on the door. Despite moving fast, I was able to celebrate a few milestones and traditions. I didn't do the 40-mile 3-state challenge by getting through all of Maryland's 40 miles in one day. But I did do my longest day yet, going 30.8 miles through most of Maryland, making it across the Mason-Dixon line into Pennsylvania, and stopping 8 miles later at 10:30PM. Very exciting that I've hiked back to my home state, very exciting to be out of the South, very exciting to cross roads I know (Route 30, PA Turnpike, etc), and VERY exciting to find decent cheesesteaks and hoagies. The next day was a lighter 15 miles, and I got to spend a few hours relaxing by a pool at Caledonia State Park. Also met a couple of young guys who are skateboarding from Chicago to New York - their link is shredamericafilm.com. The next day we crossed the physical halfway point, at mile 1088.1, which was pretty emotional. Everything is now closer to Katahdin than Springer Mtn, and its a reminder that this adventure will end at some point. Traditionally, hikers celebrate the halfway point by downing a half-gallon of ice cream at Pine Grove Furnace State Park in PA. I doomed my attempt early on when I ate a hot dog right before the ice cream, and also chose Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough as my flavor which is not a smart choice. But I did manage to eat half of it (2 pints worth), followed by a cheeseburger, while watching the others groaning as they finished off the last soupy spoonful. The trail went through Boiling Springs, PA the following day, and I would've hit the internet, but the town has no library that I could tell. It did have a public pool with twisty slides though, which was welcome on a hot day. This was the beginning of the Cumberland Valley, where the trail crosses 14 miles of flat farmland before climbing onto PA's Blue Ridge. The rest of PA will be on this ridge - those of you who travel the PA Turnpike NE Extension (I-476) might know the Blue Ridge as the mountain the highway tunnels under right north of Allentown. I left the trail in the middle of the valley to hitch into Harrisburg, and will begin again there on Monday afternoon, probably arriving in Duncannon on Tuesday. Elizabeth and I drove out to Duncannon where there was a big hiker feed on the 5th, and got to enjoy the atmosphere at the Doyle Hotel and Bar, probably the friendliest hiker bar on the AT. Lots of fellow hikers sped up or slowed down to hit the feed, and its nice to see faces I haven't seen in a while. However, its definitely clear that there are nowhere near the numbers of people on the trail as there were only a month ago. The miles and time are taking their toll. Still, the folks left are strong and I'm with a solid group of swell friends who will be fun to hike with, once I catch back up with them. One other thing for any friends and family who want to do a nifty day hike - I am suggesting meeting up at the Delaware Water Gap and hiking up the NJ side of the gap where there are amazing views from the Kittatiny Ridge. Probably about 7 miles round trip, with a 1200 foot climb, so plan a half day. I will post later about time and date, once its clearer to me....