Saturday, July 5 – Wednesday July 9. Pine Grove Rd (Mt. Holly Springs) – PA72, Swatara Gap (Mile 1178.2 since Springer Mountain and only 1007.1 miles to Katahdin)
The two day hiatus caused by my own stupidity came to an end on Saturday morning, yet I spent a very restless night prior to hitting the trail once more. I was rather nervous, if the truth be known, that I’d be unable to get back into the swing of things with sufficient impetus to maintain my mileage. I was driven back to my previous finish point by the kind lady at the hotel and fell into a conversation with a couple of day hikers, about to start a hike in the opposite direction. By the time I started, I felt a little shaky, with the remnants of the ice cream still perhaps having their effect. However, once I got back into my stride, I felt strong enough for this little confessional.
The target for the day was a very manageable 12 miles, to Boiling Springs, where I had arranged to meet up again with the very kind Fran and Steve Davis. They insisted upon bringing me gas for my stove on the off chance that I wouldn’t be able to get any in Boiling Springs. As that turned out to be the case, I was doubly grateful for their efforts.
On the way, I was aware that the route was going to take me through more fields and less forest than usual. This is because the trail goes through highly populated areas around this part of Pennsylvania and the ATC wanted to keep the whole thing as rural as possible. To my mind, they came up with a great compromise, routing us through fields and the edges of forests to avoid using roads as much as possible.
The twelve miles, though very warm, was a delightful hike and I was grateful to get to Boiling Springs five minutes early to meet Fran and Steve. I took the opportunity to shoot this short video of the gorgeous lake, as it is your “welcome to Boiling Springs” sight as you come into town. This rather bucolic sight was very reminiscent of England in the early 1960’s and entranced me as I walked the length of the lake.
Steve and Fran had been there a little while and we took several photos together, as well as had a drink in the tavern while I wolfed down another burger, my meal of choice. Afterwards, we wandered over to the outfitter, but it turned out to be a fishing outfitters, with a really interesting guy at the helm and we spent some time chatting with him. I still needed to charge my phone, so when they left, I returned to the tavern and plugged in the phone while watching the remainder of the World Cup game on TV, with Rambler and Dos Lekis, another couple of guys I’d recently met.
The only place to camp in this gorgeous place was a free campsite to the south of the town, so I retraced my steps and found myself back in the fields once more before coming upon the site, in which four guys were relaxing “fragrantly,” if you get my drift. They invited me to join them but I really wanted to set up my tent and felt that, while the ice cream was one thing, compounding the error with a new venture into enhanced smoking might be pushing the envelope a little too far. The guys warned me that the trains run all night and “can be quite loud.”
This turned out to be an understatement of massive proportions. I was just dozing off when I heard a rumble that seemed like it could be thunder, only to have it turn immediately and frighteningly into a rushing, roaring sound that passed so close that I actually ducked, lest it come directly through my tent. It was, at best, startling and was repeated several times through the night. Indeed, at 5am, I actually heard the rails rattle as a heavily laden cargo train hammered its way past my tent.
Despite this rather interrupted night, I actually managed to get a little sleep and got onto the road fairly early in the hope that Boiling Springs would be able to provide me with a breakfast. Ten minutes later, I was sitting in front of two fried eggs, bacon, home fries, plus a second plate of French Toast and syrup. Add a coffee to the mix, as well as the Times newspaper on my Kindle, and I felt very comfortable for the next hour or so.
Realizing that the miles weren’t going to walk themselves, I grudgingly left the town and quickly downgraded my estimate for the day to Darlington Shelter, 14 miles away. I’d originally intended to go on to the next shelter, giving me a short trot into Duncannon the following morning. However, my Starbucks moment back in Boiling Springs had thrown all the timing off, so 14 miles it was.
Funnily enough, there wasn’t quite as much field walking as I’d imagined, yet sufficient for any hiker to appreciate the efforts that these clubs make on behalf of hikers.
We were often walking right on the edge of forests, which gave us great sounds, with the cacophony of birds interspersed with the low sounds of trains warning the populace of some distant town. We seem to have heard trains a lot over the past couple of hundred miles, though not, fortunately, as close as those the previous night.
A deer ran out right in front of me and bounded away and, with everything so close to a more urban setting, it enhances your appreciation of the wilderness once more when you see such unexpected, yet delightful, examples of wild animals.
I had a good sleep next to the shelter and set out for Duncannon, which was less than 12 miles away. I had originally intended to have a zero day in Duncannon, though my ice cream adventure had put paid to that, so the intention was to get in, get my two packages (food from Diane and the replacement solar charger), have a burger and a couple of beers at The Doyle, a famous hikers pub, then head straight out to Clark’s Ferry Shelter, only four or five miles outside town.
This was going to be a 15 or 16 mile day, on a sticky Monday morning, so I didn’t do myself any favors when, talking on the phone to Diane, I completely missed a turning and headed on.further down the mountain, only to find myself in a community with not a white blaze to be seen. It is a remarkable aspect of this walk that the ubiquitous white blaze is so crucial to all hikers well being that we really miss them, with an anxious yearning to see one soon, when we haven’t seen one for a few minutes.
So it was now, as I reached a road, some half a mile after my phone call with not a blaze to be seen. In such circumstances, the only thing to do is to turn round and retrace your steps, however uncomfortable that may be. For me, it meant scrambling once more back up the mountain and continuing until I found a blaze. Eventually, I found my way back, only to get back to where I’d found myself half an hour previously. Still, I was back on track and had done the right thing.
The trail into Duncannon has been slightly re routed to avoid a now-missing bridge into town, but I soon found the Doyle, along with what eventually became a dozen or so hungry and thirsty hikers during that lunchtime. Reluctantly leaving, I picked up my packages, consolidated my pack and started the long, very hot trek out of town. This included a very lengthy, very boring High Street, two bridges and a climb to escape the horrendous noise of cars. Maybe it is because I never walk alongside crowded roads in my normal life, but cars are bloody noisy and I was actually shocked at how alien everything seemed to be. However, once I started climbing, the noise subsided and normal calm was resumed.
This was when I first encountered the difficulty of Pennsylvania rocks, with the last mile into the shelter being particularly tricky and challenging for all my fellow hikers. The shelter itself had no nearby tenting sites, so a bunch of us tenters (and hammockers) set up at a campsite a few hundred yards from the shelter and, most importantly, the water source.
The next day was one of my worst on the trail thus far, even though I did my distance of 13.3 miles. It was hot, it was rocky and, critically, I had totally unprepared myself for the prospect of twelve miles and no potential water source. You can see from this video that I knew that there may be difficulty in getting water, but I made the error of just taking two liters with me and hoping for the best. Once more, not a good decision!
The rocks seemed to sap not only my strength, but also my spirit, as I felt very down most of the day. However, one bright spot was this gorgeous view, so I want to include it to show that the day wasn’t a complete dud!
I’m aware that much of the world lives without water security, yet I had simply chosen to take an insufficient amount. Quite how terrifying the reality of not having the option to drink good water can be I could hardly imagine. When I eventually reached a good source, I greedily gulped down two liters immediately yet, for me, the day was as good as over.
The way the shelters are spaced out meant that the only realistic option was to pitch my tent just off a road and get ready for the storm that was due to arrive later in the afternoon. I slept for over an hour and woke to hear the approaching thunder. Nice and snug inside my tent, I heard a great whooshing sound as, first, the high wind then, second, the rain, pummeled my tiny tent. It was a little alarming at first, but I soon settled down and waited the storm out. Fortunately, it only lasted as violently as that for about thirty minutes, yet it reminded me how brutal the weather is capable of being.
This morning, I decided to head out early and was on the trail by 6.35 (an early morning record for me). I didn’t have breakfast and started to feel a little like the day before, so I flopped my pack on the ground, pulled out my stove and breakfasted right in the middle of the trail. I immediately felt better and, along with plenty of water, I hiked immeasurably better than the day before. I even had time to visit the immaculate Rausch Gap Shelter for a leisurely lunch of mashed potatoes and tuna before completing my day at Swatara Gap some six miles later. Below, just before Swatara Gap, I reflect on the day before and, looking at this now, I can see how, despite my normal upbeat nature, I knew that I had screwed up the day before and I look a little irked with myself.
Diane arranged a cab to meet me and I am now comfortably ensconced in the Days Inn Hotel in the basement, which is apparently the place that the hikers get for the hikers rate.
I must confess that this week has been something of a challenge for me, with the nasty memory (in so many different ways!!) of the ice cream debacle, along with my dehydration and poor choices made. I should also say that the hike is turning out to be a little lonelier than I had thought, with little human contact during the day, though evenings at shelters often provide that in some measure. This is something that I’m just going to have to deal with in the next few months, as there will likely be less and less hikers for company as others drop out, move on or are left behind.
I’ve always thought that there was a significant mental element needed to complete this hike and this is now coming to the fore. I’ve even started to listen to podcasts on my phone, though that seems to disconnect me from the trail in ways that I can’t readily explain, so I prefer just to hike most of the time with both ears free to hear what is all around. I’ll work my way through this temporary blip, yet it is certainly a new element to take into account as I push ever northward.