Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Rocked again, repeatedly

Up late this morning, expecting a short hike to the next water source. Bivouacs put me on water rationing immediately, cold dinner and a trail bar breakfast,  and restrained use of my usual 2 liter hiking water supply. All these steps let me stretch one day’s water to cover two, but take away much of my strength for the afternoon.

Some of the millipedes crawling the bivouac site tried to hitch a ride on my tarp and in my boots, but I kicked them off, explaining that I was already over my optimum pack weight. I turned west (to go south on the AT, and stepped off into the fog.

When I met the first person I saw on the Trail today, we determined that I was headed back to Wind Gap, and had added two miles to the nearest southbound spring. (The Beer Design tavern was closer, but I successfully resisted temptation once again.)

Trail surface of embedded small rocks, many platelike and embedded on end with their points up to catch unwary travelers. The heavy Vasque bootw have done a  good job of limiting my score so far: two blisters, one no-injury fall.

I also saw my first  live viper on the AT! It was about for inches long, definitely a triangular jaw, and racing for cover under the rocks before I could take a photo or even guess its species. Timber rattler, probably.

The spring was four hundred feet downhill from the shelter. A hunter cheerily told me he had drank from the screen unpurified for years without ill effect; I thanked him for his advice, and went ahead with my usual process.

Tomorrow, 7 miles to another “unreliable” spring, followed by a ten mile day. I will carry extra water again. This section has a reputation for being difficullt, and zi am feeling good about continuing to make my way through it.

Although, I do regret missiing Beer Designs.

Monday, September 18, 2017


planned ten hours of hiking today, expecting to stop at far less -- but there were no obvious ways better than getting out on the Trail and going as far as I could go. Carrying extra water made it even more of a challenge, even more than the notorious rock scree covering or embedded in this section of the AT which lived up to its billing as tedious and slow going.

Very happy to have my heavy Vasque™ boots on. I could still feel the rock edges I stepped on and winced every time my boot toe did not quite clear another stone -- but I did not want to imagine how that would feel in trail runners, or even the ultralight boots.

One of the young southbounders was not fazed, though. “Ice” chatted with me a bit in the evening, explained that her trail name recalled some time she spent with her ankle packed in ice, and also, her boyfriend’s trail name is Soda, so, you know ….

We happened to step out on the trail at the same time this morning, but I reminded her of my trail name (“Snail”) and suggested she go on ahead. After a few minutes, she looked back to give me a cheery farewell and strolled away at more than half again my pace.

Several local hikers were on the Trail, some of whom were doing what was taking me two daya as a day hike. Dock shoes, club casual slacks, and a couple of ten ounce water bottles … I suppose I should have said something, but carrying those stone tablets down the mountain gets tiring after a few decades.

With three miles to go, my energy fading, and Wind Gap to cross (400’ down, 400’ up), plus no campsites ahead, I  had to decide. Struggle up the slope and camp on the ridge, or come off the trail for the night? I chose to climb out of the Gap and bivouac at the top rather than walking into town for a discount motel room and dinner at a place named “Beer Designs” (Here’s a measure of how priorities change; given the hour, a key factor was that I would have to climb back up the mile from town.)

While I was counting myself up the switchbacks, mind struggling over wailing matter, I heard someone behind say, “Excuse me, Mister Snail, may I pass by?”

Mister Snail? I turned around and exclaimed “Ice! How did you get behind me?”

“Well, you know, that last bit was pretty tiring, so I thought I would go into town and buy some resupplies …” she paused and put on a guilty smile, “and then l thought I might have a coffee, so I did.” Her look turned defiant, don't you dare tell me that a true thru hiker wouldn't do that!

“A good idea, yes?” Didn't account for three hours it would have taken for my to get ahead of her, though.

“At, you know, the Dunkin Donuts store?”

“Of course! And then they have fine sandwiches there, and smoothies … and even ...donuts?”

“Oh, they looked delicious, but I didn’t have any of those! I had two of the big pretzels instead, and then I was ready for the Trail again.”

“Well, please give my regards to everyone in you tramily, I’m too wornout to make it to the shelter tonight. I'm going to stop and bivouac at the top.” Exchanging good wishes, we parted ways as she flew up the slope I was forcing my legs to climb, her trail runners still in excellent condition.

Not likely to see any of them again.

Sunday, September 17, 2017


Up early this morning, gathering my gear and taking it outside as quietly as I could manage. The mildew smell had not been as difficult for sleeping as I was afraid it might, but sleep did not come easy.

The half dozen southbound collegians and their dogs did not stir as I slipped out to make breakfast on the patio.

There was a fellow driving down the alley next to the church who stopped and greeted me. Assuming he was the caretaker, I walked over and asked if he was in charge of this excellent place. He refused intensely, saying he was too sinful a man for that role ... which led to a spirited and positive chat about faith, evil, redemption, and the difference between love and lust. Heavy stuff before the first morning tea.

Up one block, right turn -- first white blaze, on a telephone pole. A heavy morning fog blocked any view of the ridges and made a steam bath of the mild heat. The easy walk up a fire road grew steeper, and the tread gave over to the infamous rocks of Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Rocks

Saturday, September 16, 2017

A less than positive start

Riding a bus towards Scranton as I write this.

Bittersweet memories overwhelmed me this morning as Kirsten drove me through western Maryland (recalling the evening at Elk Neck State Park when our family encountered a large herd of deer grazing on open pasture), through Churchman’s Marsh (a regular source of emergency response income for all of the volunteer rescue stations in the area, including the one in Claymont that started my son’s career seventeen years -- seventeen? yes -- ago) to Philadelphia and the 30th Street Station.

Photos here were retieved online; mine did not turn out.

Less than organized start this morning, waking up at 2 and deciding to rearrange items in my pack. It is still not ready for the trail, but I plan to work on it when I reach the hostel this evening.

Intentionally left behind: the inReach satellite communicator, which has some  unresolved conflict with the company’s host server, and my leaking primary Platypus water bladder, which I tried unsuccessfully to patch yesterday. Fortunately, I have a backup. Unintentionally almost left behind: my spare pair of hiking pants, discovered patiently waiting to be loaded when I was repacking at 2. What else have I forgotten?

News reports say Hurricane José is heading northwest, threatening to go ashore in New Jersey. That may delay my hike, or even cancel it .... Shikata kanai, nothing I can do except keep an eye on the weather as I am hiking.

The Schuylkill Expressway north out of Philadelphia provoked more memories with its usual traffic jams across from Wissahickon and Conshohocken. Northbound, again.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Warmup on the Ambassador Whitehouse Trail

The pack weighed in at 42 lbs, including water ... it seems to have put on some weight since the Strawberry wilderness hike as well.  We'll burn it off in a couple of days.

Combining tasks, I did an all-up dress rehearsal four mile loop today that included the short trail I co-oversee for the club, and checked on the condition of the bench that Barbara and John built for the scenic overlook.
More visitors appreciating the bench at Paris Overlook

The head says, okay, we can still do this (the eyes may say otherwise), the legs scream "not again!", and the heart say "okay, if we have to, let's do it, we'll feel good about it afterwards"

Kirsten will drive me north to Philadelphia at dawn Saturday, and  I will take a five hour bus ride from there to the Delaware Water Gap.  Sunday, I plan to head south, aiming for the Blue Mountain Summit in a week.  Internet access? Doubtful.

Sunday, September 10, 2017


The Pennsylvania section of the Appalachian Trail begins at the Delaware Water Gap, where the river has chewed through some old stone to create some impressive cliffs -- on the New Jersey side, fortunately, so I will not be climbing them until next year.

Westbound, though, goes over the storied sixty mile long boulder field on the way to Port Clinton. Five days out, I plan to stop at the Blue Mountain Lodge, recover and resupply before continuing.

"Puff", the owner — self named after his 70s-era 'do, abandoned some years ago "when it got a little patchy" — cautioned me that the Chris Dean band would be in full swing when I arrived. So, I need to save some energy to enjoy the rhythm and blues ... here's the band's website.


Then, on to cross the Schuykill at Port Clinton, wander through some State Game Lands with my orange vest and backpack cover on, cross the Susquehanna at Duncannon, slip through the Harrisburg-Carlisle urban maze, and stop at Pine Grove Furnace Park for the legendary Ice Cream Challenge.

Weather is a big concern; I am counting on another extended Indian summer this year. Hopefully, the stuff falling from the sky will stay liquid!

I plan to leave Virginia on Saturday the 16th, and return before the 15th of October.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Trail towns, hostels, and grocery stores

Duncannon on the Susquehanna River is one of the towns that divide the Trail into spiritually different sections. The dropout rate among northbound thru hikers typically stops increasing here -- though there will be an uptick when they reach the White Mountains in New Hampshire.

Susquehanna under the overpass
The river crossing here is a customary arrangement when a highway bridge is present. Jersey barriers are set up to isolate a 2-3 foot wide walkway up close and personal with the tractor trailers thundering by.  After spending several days out in the woods, the impact is a little disturbing.

In Maine, however, several creeks will require fording -- as in, take hiking boots off, put on water shoes, and wade across through water that comes from (you guessed it!) melting mountain ice packs. Variety, spice of life, et cetera.

The Doyle - 113 years of hiker legends.
All the sandwiches are made like a hamburger.

The logistics challenge is finding places to refill the five days of food in one's pack without having to go too far off the trail. Common options include trail town grocery stores, resupply boxes sent ahead, or -- shudder -- convenience marts.

Resupply boxes can be sent to general delivery at trail town post offices along the way, to hostels where one plans to stop and clean off a layer of filth,  or can simply be stashed out in the woods near one of the highway trailheads.

Not that AT hikers focus only on food. Dry socks are important, too.

Of course there's ice cream, it's a trail town!