Synopsis: Friends. Beer. Rocks. Halfway Point. Camera Death. Rocks. Ice Cream. Mosquitoes. Rocks. Dehydrations. Heat. Lots of fun. Lots of rocks.
When reflecting on our time in Pennsylvania, I’m flooded with a strange range of emotions:
“Nice! This state isn’t as rocky as they say!”
“WILL THESE F-ING ROCKS EVER F-ING END?!?!”
“Oh, look at that pretty stream.”
“WHERE DID ALL OF THE F-ING WATER GO?!?!”
“The people of PA, and those we are hiking with, are fantastic!”
“WHY IS SHE A STRIPPER?!?!”
As we discovered, the lack of consistency in our PA journey is what made this state so memorable.
Rob and I were inundated with generosity almost immediately upon entering Pennsylvania. Noticing there was a craft fair occurring at Caledonia State Park, we decided to wander about and see what kinds of neat things we would find. After all, it’s not too often you stumble upon a craft fair on the trail. As luck would have it, our simple act of walking around, wearing our backpacks and not really fitting in would turn us into a kind of “piece of art” (or “piece of work” – I’m not quite sure which way the pendulum swung). We had many people flag us down to inquire on what kind of journey we were undertaking. Within a span of an hour’s time, we received generous offerings of two burgers, two hot dogs, a MASSIVE bag of kettle corn popcorn, Gatorade, water, and even a homemade A.T. necklace! Hm, maybe they thought we were homeless… it can be hard to distinguish. I don’t know what we did to deserve these treats but the kind people of Pennsylvania sure helped us start the state on a good foot.
The next day brought us to Pine Grove Furnace and the official halfway mark of the trail. Here’s a journal snapshot of that day:
07.15.2012 – Day 122 (Candice)
Rob woke us up at a good and early time. He woke me up by singing “wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle” while simultaneously sticking his finger in my ear. We left camp around 8 AM and enjoyed nice, easy terrain all day.
When we got to the first shelter, we met Tiny Dancer, Pinball Wizard, Chatterbox, Dickflap, and Butterfly whom we leapfrogged all day. We passed a sign signifying that we crossed the halfway point. It was a monumental moment for us and took a bunch of proud pictures. We are now closer to Katahdin than we are to Springer. Whoa! If the journey has been this great thus far, I’m excited to experience what else is in store for us.
When we hit Pine Grove Furnace State Park, we took part in the “Half-Gallon Challenge” – a thru-hiking tradition in which a hiker must consume a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting. We were a little disappointed in the store and their selection (today’s ice cream flavors were vanilla or cherry) so we both had the cherry. Rob finished his in 30 minutes. It took me a whopping 1 hour and 15 minutes. It was the absolute hardest thing to eat THAT much ice cream in one sitting. It seemed like it would be easy, with our hiker hunger and my extreme fondness of ice cream, but MAN, that sure was a lot of dairy (and sugar!). We did consume upwards of 1200 calories in this feast alone so hopefully that will be useful… so long as it doesn’t land us ralphing behind a tree tomorrow.
Afterwards, we checked out the AT museum, hit the showers in the state park, and then finished the last half of our day. We managed to get to the shelter before the rain this time; a rare occurrence worthy of celebration. Wahoo!
We will arrive in Boiling Springs tomorrow. We’ve heard staying at the Allenberry Inn and Playhouse is the route to go so that is where we will head first.
Something funny happened yesterday that I forgot to write about. As we hiked the final stretch before retiring for the night, I stopped to pee. As I was doing so, Rob started talking about how his ass sweat was causing chafing problems and he wanted to get to the shelter ASAP. When we started to walk again, we were talking about how we heard some people use Chap-Stick when petroleum jelly isn’t readily available. Rob made a joke that he was going to steal my chap-stick in middle of the night to rub on his ass and then put it back without telling me. As we rounded the corner while finishing this conversation, two day hikers looked at us with a deer-in-the-headlights expression. We said “hi” in that shakey “I’m-embarassed-but-maybe-they-didn’t-hear-us” voice. They didn’t respond and continued to stare at us with disgust.
Lesson of the day: Don’t talk about sweaty assholes in the middle of the woods under the presumption nobody would hear you. There ARE other people out there.
We did indeed stay at the Allenberry in Boiling Springs that following night (sweaty assholes and zero dignity intact). Walking up to the sprawling 18th estate, we were excited to explore yet disenchanted as we were certain this was going to cost us a boatload. There were many different buildings as they accommodate summer camps for the playhouse, the actors involved in the plays, fly fishing camps, and visitors traveling through. After finally arriving at the main building/lobby, we were pleased to find there was still vacancy AND it wasn’t going to cost us said boatload. We quickly headed to our room and discovered that it was quite cozy with a magnificent bathroom. While I believe they (cleverly) put hikers up in the older furnished rooms, we were far from complaint. The meager $45 +/- included not just our room but also a buffet dinner and breakfast. What a deal!
With the exceptionally high temperatures, we couldn’t resist some pool time. Fortunately for us (and them, I suppose), the resort lends out bathing suits for hikers. I don’t know if they get much use as we read in the log book of a hiker/actor naked pool party a few nights before our arrival. Hopefully they increased the chlorine amounts afterwards.
The manager of the resort was great. He talked with us for a long time about the resorts history and his thoughts on hikers (generally good). He must have enjoyed our company as he hung out with us at the bar even after closing it down. We watched the Tiger’s game together while sharing some drinks. He let us try some very good Scotch and toasted our night together.
One thing worthy of noting in this region and time-of-year:
MOSQUITOS. ARE. TERRIBLE.
While we did have head nets, we didn’t possess hats to keep the netting away from our faces making them practically worthless. Even though the heat was intense, we had the urge to cover every inch of exposed skin preferring to sweat out the last of our water weight than to feel like tiny bugs were crawling all over us. The constant buzzing in and around your orifices is enough to drive you legally insane. Simply put, you may want to pre-plan some kind of system to make your hike more enjoyable.
They next few days were incredibly fun. As you will discover, the trail is simply a vessel in which you meet incredible people who you develop a unique bond with in a relatively short period of time. Nobody can quite understand this crazy, nonsensical side of you like a fellow thru-hiker. Only they can understand the decisions you made to undertake this journey and why you felt it was absolutely necessary to do so. This unspoken understanding between thru-hikers is what makes these relationships so exceptional. This doesn’t downplay your relationships with other loved ones. It simply puts you in touch with a whole other realm of friendship.
When a thru-hiker reaches Duncannon, PA, the first instinct for many is to head straight to the Doyle. Known for its friendly faces and food, we headed there post-“7-Eleven” slurpee (my first instinct) to indulge in both. Never ones to miss out on indulgences, we spent far too many hours at the bar eating delicious food and drinking a variety of libations with friends. The owners of the Doyle, Pat and Vickey Kelly, were directly responsible for our enjoyment – Pat was the cook and Vickey the bartender. There is also lodging on-site if so desired. While we didn’t check out the rooms, we’ve heard from many to note, book a room expecting much. Let’s just say that the lodging at the Doyle is not the Ritz-Carlton… or even a Motel 6.
When leaving Duncannon, there is a little establishment you aren’t likely to find listed in any A.T. guide books. “The Cabin” isn’t a classy looking place and the “bouncer” doesn’t help any but it’s not often that you find a “gentleman’s club” right on the trail. You can take that literally. It is right on the trail.
I’m not saying we went… I’m not saying we didn’t go. All I’m saying is they may or may not had a stripper named “Spicy”. And it’s BYOB.
It is close to this point through Pennsylvania that you realize where the nickname “Rocksylvania” came to light. At first i believed it to be an over-reaction. We’ve had rocks and roots trip us up in almost all states thus far. We were in the wood, after all. They simply exist in nature. Not only that but the first part of Pennsylvania was quite pleasant. It was primarily smooth sailing and strip-clubs.
Not the rest of the state.
There were rocks.
And more rocks.
Rocks jabbing into your foot.
Rocks stabbing your ankles.
Rocks even coming out of your ears if you fell just right.
F-ing rocks.Rob tripped on a rock around this point and fell face first onto a root. It was the most terrifying thing I witnessed on our hike. It wasn’t so terrifying because of the actual fall, I was in front of him when he went down, but more terrifying because of the horrific face he made combined with how slow he got back up. First instinct had me thinking about where the closest road crossing was and if I’d be able to throw him over my shoulder – I did have pretty strong legs at this point, after all. Fortunately, his gargoyle face was more of reaction to the shock of the fall rather than anything really bad being wrong with him. He only bit his lip, thank goodness.
That wasn’t the end of our battle with the rocks. The battle pretty much lasted the rest of the state. We made the most of it though. In fact, as a direct result of the fun I referenced earlier, we did a lot of night-hiking in Pennsylvania. That may not have been our smartest decision ever but it sure was a hell of a lot of fun.
Shelters can be pretty nice in Pennsylvania. Perhaps most notable were the 501 and Eckville shelters. These shelters are privately owned and available to hikers through the Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club. Both have caretakers on site enabling them to offer services that most shelters cannot such as a fully-enclosed sleeping space, toilets, and even solar showers. A shower never feels as good as when your sweaty self can’t take one for days on end. There is a reason why most thru-hikers get rid of most of their gear at the end of their hike… not necessarily because it is worn beyond use but because you CAN’T GET RID OF THE STENCH. Go ahead and try to wash that sleeping bag a hundred times. It will still smell. Some hostels will even require you to keep your gear outside as to try and prevent stinky hiker poisoning and the smell from permeating their furnishings.
Before I digress too far, the most important aspect of these shelters is that you can order delivery pizza.
Showers + Pizza = Thru-Hiker Heaven
153 miles into Pennsylvania is the little town of Port Clinton. While the town itself doesn’t provide much in terms of hiker services, there is a pavilion in the town park that offers hikers a place to sleep at night. To our delight, the Cabela’s in nearby Hamburg offered shuttles to and from their store for hikers. Smart for them, good for us. While the only thing we purchased from Cabela’s was lunch (go figure), we did walk across the street to Wal-Mart to resupply. Rob, and our friend Vice Grip, asked another customer where the nearest liquor store was and followed that question up with “Would you be so kind as to drive us there?” To our surprise, and maybe his own as well, he said “yes”. With whiskey, food in our packs, and in our bellies, we headed back to the pavilion as happy campers.
Between Port Clinton and Slatington, PA, highlights included the views from the “Pinnacle” and “Pulpit” and a rocky trek over the “Knife’s Edge” and “Bear Rocks”. The treacherous terrain really slowed us down. While certainly not a bad thing, do plan on your daily mileage decreasing a bit through this section.
Disaster struck for us in Slatington. Although it was not quite the disaster that befell the likes of Roy Sullivan, a Shenandoah park ranger who had been struck by lightning 7 times thus claiming the top spot in the Guinness Book of World Records (he also claims to have beaten a bear off with a stick on 22 separate occasions), it certainly felt like it at the time.
Our beloved camera…
Containing pictures from the last two weeks…
Including pictures from the half gallon challenge and the strip club…
We hitched a ride into Slatington from a kind man in a SUV. We threw our packs in the back not noticing the zipper was undone on the pocket holding the camera. Our kind benefactor was halfway to the moon by the time we realized the camera had fallen out. Despite that, we looked like a couple of crazed buffoons running around town trying to spot his car. When you carry your life on your back, losing just one item is heartbreaking. Losing the item that has documented major moments on a life-changing journey makes you feel like strapping a lightning rod to your head and joining the ranks of Roy Sullivan. With heavy hearts, we admitted defeat and headed on with our trek. I could at the very least find an ounce of enjoyment while picturing him hysterical upon discovery of pictures from Amy’s bachelorette party in Michigan.
Your first task to tackle on the way out of Slatington is the climb out of Lehigh Gap in Palmerton. The hike up to the ridgeline was an on-trail highlight for us in Pennsylvania. More scrambling that anything else, this was a rocky section where we enjoyed jumping from rock-to-rock and navigating the route. Make sure you pack plenty of water as the water sources aren’t too reliable in this section.
Having been distracted from the loss of our camera, we did NOT heed this advice and got to the ridgeline practically waterless. Oops. Not helping our cause any was the fact that under our very feet was the Palmerton Zinc Superfund Site. In case your mouth didn’t drop open just then, maybe I need to describe what a “Superfund Site” is as I had no clue until I was standing right above one.
From the Environmental Protection Agency website, a superfund site is “an uncontrolled or abandoned place where hazardous waste is located, possibly affecting local ecosystems or people.” In regards to the ground upon which we were standing, the EPA describes “the Palmerton Zinc Pile Site is the area of a former primary zinc smelting operation… For nearly 70 years, the New Jersey Zinc Company depositied [sic] 33 million tons of slag at the site, creating a cinder bank that extends for 2 ½ miles and measures over 100 feet high and 500 to 1,000 feet wide. The smelting operations emitted huge quantities of heavy metals throughout the valley. As a result, approximately 2,000 acres on Blue Mountain, which is adjacent to the former smelters, have been defoliated, leaving a barren mountain side. Soil on the defoliated area of the mountain has contaminated the rain water flowing across it. The runoff and erosion have carried contaminants into Aquashicola Creek and the Lehigh River.”We were in dire straits. While neither one of us were actually dehydrated and would in fact live on for days to come without water in the most serious of circumstances, the very thought of not having any dried my tongue up like a shriveled raisin. It’s similar to having one thought about something you do not have, but very much want, and want this very second. This very want consumes all of your successive thoughts and you cannot think about anything other than this one tiny, miniscule thing (i.e. – a raisin). You just have to have that raisin. Life will not go on without that raisin. Nothing could come to close being as important as having that raisin at that very moment… not even water.
We had to have water at that very moment. But, certainly not water sourced out of a Superfund Site (seriously, who thought putting the Appalachian Trail on this contaminated ground was a good idea?!). Instead we opted to carry on past dark to the next road and 0.4 miles up that road to a ski resort listed in our guidebook as having a water spigot. We were utterly exhausted when we arrived but content with chugging water straight from the faucet. The weird looks we received we welcomed as we rehydrated our raisin mouths. It was a fortunate happenstance as the ski resort operates a bar/restaurant during the summer months where we consumed some delicious mango pico de gallo with homemade tortilla chips and beer.
Heading on from the waterless land of heavy metal poisoning, the following section remained dry. To get water, you have to take a side trail essentially straight back down the mountain you just climbed. To make life simpler, stock up on water anytime you come across it. We did find respite in the small town of Wind Gap. After heading into town on a mission to do laundry, we, per usual, found a pleasant local bar called The Beerstein.
The Beerstein warrants its own section in this post as this place provided some of our most valued memories in all of Pennsylvania. We stopped for a drink and a snack. We stayed for a few more drinks, a delicious dinner, camping in their yard, and a free-for-all breakfast the following morning. The owner, Cary, was a kind man interested in providing more services to hikers in the years to come. After good conversation, he told us he would open up the restaurant at 8:30 AM to let us cook whatever our eyes and bodies needed. After showing us around, he let us do just that and left for a couple of hours to run some errands. Words cannot describe the epic feast we prepared for ourselves. Steak, shrimp, even so far as the mussels our friend made were permitted to us… all for free… all out of the kindness of his heart. We reveled in our food, and his incredible generosity, while watching “There’s Something About Mary” until finally forcing ourselves to leave. The trail wasn’t going to hike itself.
Where else can you experience such things? The A.T. is a remarkable place.
Delaware Water Gap is a 15 mile +/- hike from Wind Gap and our final stop in Pennsylvania. Even though we arrived after dark, you could tell that the town had a decent amount of stuff going on and things to offer. We headed straight to the Church of the Mountain hostel where we promptly took our first real shower (with soap) in nearly two weeks.Fun fact – The hostel opened in 1976 making it the oldest running hostel on the A.T.
With a large bunkroom and lounge area, we were very happy with our stay. Even better… the first night was free! The following day we took a shuttle to Walmart, provided from “The Pack Shack”, to resupply and purchase a new camera. We couldn’t go the rest of our trip without a camera!Leaving PA was unceremonious, but pretty, as you cross the bridge over the Delaware River into New Jersey. Looking ahead, we were eager to experience a number of smaller states over the next few weeks during our trek to Maine.
Next Up: NEW “JOISEY”