Thursday July 10 – Saturday July 19. PA72, Swatara Gap – US206, Culvers Gap (Mile 1318.0 since Springer Mountain and only 867.3 miles to Katahdin)
I haven’t posted for quite a while and have access to wifi at last, so there is quite a bit to catch up on. You can see from the mileage above that the distance to Katahdin is certainly ticking down and I continue to get through about 100 miles a week.
When I last posted, I was staying at the Days Inn, near Swatara Gap and, if you recall, I found it hard to find a cab driver who could get a great deal of enthusiasm about either taking me there or returning me to the trail. As a consequence, I dawdled a little the following morning, getting a few necessary items from the Hess Garage across the street. I had called the cab company from the previous evening, ordering, at about 7.30, a cab for 9am. The bloke at the other end was having none of it, telling me that I should call when I was ready to leave. “I’ll be ready at 9am.” I replied. “Well call me then.” was his response. I couldn’t be bothered to get all British on him and hung up the phone, fuming, and resigned myself to hitching the 3 or 4 mile return journey.
As luck would have it, the second truck to pass my way contained a human being with a love for hiking. He stopped, told me to lob my stuff in the back and we chatted about the AT for a very pleasant 5 or 10 minutes as he drove and deposited me in exactly the right spot. Sometimes it’s your day and sometimes it isn’t. I was so much more cheerful this morning and I shot a video of the early hike with news of earlier hiking pals.
Just after I’d finished the video, Bassman, who I’d met several days earlier, came upon me and we started chatting and hiking together for most of the rest of the day. He is a section hiker and we had got on well previously, so it seemed natural to team up with him once more. Indeed, he led us up a very hilly climb and, with the back and forth chit chat, the morning went by very quickly, yet pleasantly. We followed the ridge and replenished water at a shelter, then he reached his destination and I was back on my own. He did talk about hiking again in Maine in September, so we may well have the chance to meet up again.
I was only heading for an 11 mile day, having had such a late start, and I eventually got to the 501 Shelter, which is a bunk room with about a dozen bunks. Despite my fears of keeping everybody awake with my snoring, I opted for the shelter as opposed to tenting, as rain was due and did, in fact materialize. Bassman knew where I was heading, and turned up with some trail magic of his own, bringing Gatorade and other goodies. What a good guy he was.
We were also sufficiently close to the road to allow us to order pizza and pies were duly ordered and delivered. With such a large bunch of people in the shelter there was another convivial evening and, with that and my day with Bassman, my mood lightened considerably.
One of the items we touched on that evening was Lyme Disease, which one of the guys had as well as rabies, which three of the youngsters were being treated for as a precaution. One of the lads had been bitten by a skunk, while the other two were bitten by a sick bat. Chip, one of the bat bitten boys, woke to find that the bat was tangled in his hair and had crapped on his face. Charming!
The following morning, I was determined to get at least 15 miles under my belt, which is quite a long hike for rocky Pennsylvania at this stage. As a consequence, I managed to get myself motivated and out by 6.45am, something of a rarity for me. The rocks were tricky and tiring in equal measure and, by PA183, I was ready for a spot of lunch. I ran into Survivor and his twin brother, along with the enigmatically named James, which is apparently written with all capital letters. James was getting a shuttle to town for a Post Office drop, while Survivor and his brother were just catching a breather. Eventually, they all left me to my tuna wrap and, seconds after James had driven of, a guy pulled into the parking area and asked me If I wanted a cold drink with it. Trail Magic!! I’m normally the one just missing out, so I felt a little smug at my good fortune and tucked in.
There were plenty of people at Eagles Nest Shelter and I found a really nice, relatively quiet spot for my tent. The Maine sisters, Navigator and Toots, were there, along with their hiking friend, J-Rex, as well as Voodoo, Survivor and his brother and the rather under-dressed Yeti Legs. This young guy is very affable and entirely unselfconscious. He hikes in only a pair of underpants that are grey and often see-through when damp with sweat, which is pretty much all of the time. He apparently went to Walmart in that outfit, yet seemed not at all out of place. Extraordinary!
I left Eagles Nest the following morning after what is probably the most embarrassing incident thus far. I can’t even write about it, but I confessed later in this video.
Ugh!!! Say no more!
I was planning to meet up with Fran and Steve Davis in Port Clinton and they were kindly taking me on a tour of the Yuengling Brewery, which was fairly nearby. First, I had to negotiate a rocky hike and an incredibly steep climb down into the town itself. This was one of the steepest descents I had made and I would not want to have done it in the rain; it was really quite scary and tough on the knees.
I was a little early, so thought I’d catch breakfast, in the way that hikers do at every opportunity. Luckily, somebody pointed me to Port Clinton Hotel, which was about to open, so I sat myself at the bar and, with no eggs available, I went for a pint of Yuengling and a cheeseburger. It was bloody delicious and probably the best burger I’d had thus far. Steve and Fran turned up while I was stuffing my face and I could see that Steve was tempted, but settled on a beer instead.
The brewery was certainly worth a visit, though the high point were the free samples at the end. They then kindly took me to Cabellas, a huge sporting goods store, where I ditched my old hiking pants (size 42″ waist) and got something a little more appropriate to my new found figure (size 34″ waist). I haven’t been this size since I was about eleven!! Before dropping me back at Port Clinton, they took me to a food store, waiting patiently as I sprinted around the store in my version of supermarket challenge.
Returning to Port Clinton, I suggested that they take me to the town campsite, wait while I set up my tent, then I would buy them dinner at the hotel. I’m pleased to say that, even under the pressure of watching eyes, I was able to set up the tent in about three or four minutes and we headed over to the hotel. Steve was now able to satisfy his hunger and we all ate well, with another glass or two of Yuengling. Steve and Fran have been absolutely wonderful to me on this trip and lifted my spirit each time that I saw them. Thanks so very much.
When they left, somebody suggested that we go to the Fire Station Clubhouse, where we were informed we could get a drink. It was all a bit cloak and dagger (push the red button, tell the bloke who answers that you are thirsty hikers and were wondering if you could have a drink). I thought I’d buy a round for the two guys and one girl and pulled out a $20 bill to pay. Three beers and a vodka and soda set me back the princely sum of $5.50. Happy Days!!
Several people had turned up late and, by the time I woke in the morning and got up, people were strewn all over the field. I suddenly noticed young Beans, a guy I had met very early on and seen intermittently since then. He was now in tow with a young girl, Kat, which seemed to explain his lack of pace thus far. We chatted briefly and I left, hoping to make another 15 mile day. There were two photo opportunities; one at the Pulpit, which I pasted on Facebook and the other at the Pinnacle, at which I shot this video of supposedly the best view on the AT of Pennsylvania.
The rocks were, once again, terribly annoying, though the hiking after the Pinnacle was very smooth and a blessed relief for my feet, which had begun to feel like hamburger patties. I should also mention that my right boot had by now pretty much disintegrated under this assault and I sent pictures of both the left and right boot to Diane and she successfully argued with the company. Asolo, that this wasn’t down to wear and tear, as “my husband doesn’t hike with a limp, nor does he have any deformity.” This did the trick and Asolo acknowleged that a free replacement was in order, which they quickly sent. Excellent and realistic customer service, aided and abetted by my tenacious wife.
The Eckville Shelter, where I camped for the night, is an excellent facility, with a charging station for phones, a tap with what tasted like spring water and an excellent tenting site. Unfortunately it is blessed by what can only be described as a curmudgeonly attendant, who loves in the adjoining house and is responsible for the site. I noticed that there was available wifi, so asked him if I could have his password so that I could watch the extra time in a World Cup game. “No,” was his somewhat final reply, though he added, “because I’d then have to give it to everybody.” which explained nothing. Once more, I avoided the temptation to become British on him and contented myself by listening on the radio.
We had a bit of a storm in the night, but I stayed dry and snug and reflected once more what a good choice my tent was turning out to be.
I was a little under the gun, as I was hoping to meet up with two friends the following day. Mark Jeffrey had been holidaying in the Blue Ridge Mountains among other places and was hoping to meet up somewhere along the way, while Barry Gates, a more recent friend from Florida, had moved back to Pennsylvania a year or so before and was coming over to meet me as well.
It was a very, very rocky hike and I took on more lunch than usual to allow me to get the energy to put in a hard afternoon to get within striking distance of my planned rendezvous the following day. As often happens, the weather decided that it was going to limit my options, and I saw on my phone that a severe weather alert had been posted, so I had little alternative but to get my tent up quickly as the rain suddenly hit me. Lying sweatily in my tent, with my wet pack keeping me company, the whole place got very steamy very quickly, so I pushed myself into action and set up the tent for an all night stay. I’d been hoping the weather would pass but it seemed set for the night, though it turned out to be less intense than expected.
In my haste to set up quickly, I must have kept the bug net open longer than normal, as I was suddenly aware of something moving on my arm as I lay there, only to see a very large, very red spider making a run for it up my arm. Never a big fan of spiders, I whacked my own arm and squished the interloper, searching furiously for any friends that may have joined him, though found none.
The following morning was foggy and I recorded the rather atmospheric and calm scene.
There was actually an official campsite only about 100 yards away, so I filled up with water and met up again with Gizmo and met a Brit called St Rick for the first time. We chatted for a while, but I was in a hurry to make up some miles and hiked on, only to run into some of the worst rocks so far. I also met up with an older guy, RW, from Chicago and we tackled the infamous Knifes Edge together. He fell at one stage and cut his head, though not to badly and I, not having fallen for a while, had my 13th fall just before the rocks, then, as if to avoid the unlucky 13th, had my 14th about ten minutes later. The first one was innocuous, though the second gave me a whack on the hip.
I had told Mark where I hoped we could meet and was little surprised at how rural the road actually was when I got there. As a consequence, I didn’t hold out much hope that he’d be able to find it but, of course, I stayed there to see if he would.
Just before the road, I discovered a veritable treasure trove of Trail Magic that is replenished every day by a man and his dog (though I’m guessing the dog is more of a spectator than a replenisher). I helped myself to a drink, a banana, an orange and two donuts while I waited.
In the interim, a car drove up and a young couple came out and approached me with a free coke which, of course, I accepted. They were part of a support team for a southbounder who was trying to set a record for the trip and they were responsible for filming part of his journey. He was raising $100,000 for an orphanage in Uganda, after which, he was moving to Uganda with his wife and child and fostering two of the children. Now that is walking the walk.
The young couple who approached me were also interviewing other hikers for their documentary as background, so they asked me a few questions for their film. We were just finishing up when Mark and his lovely partner, Sue, drove up, with Sue’s two daughters. I was so delighted to see them and we had a great chat and had a couple of pictures together. They had bought me some snacks, pretty much most of which had been eaten before the day was over. Mark seemed to have thought that we could pop into a local restaurant and have a nice little lunch, though by the time he got to me, he’d realized that “we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Once more, I was humbled by the time and effort that people have taken in coming to see me and their continuing interest in my adventure. If that doesn’t lift your spirit, then nothing will.
I left Mark and thankfully had an easy journey to my meeting place with Barry at Lehigh Gap, luckily running into him as he and his son, Tyler, were hiking up a side trail that crossed the AT just in front of me. Two minutes later and I would have been past his trail, so things couldn’t have worked out better.
I had decided to stay the night nearby, mainly to get my clothes clean and Barry helped me find the wonderful Inn at Jim Thorpe, where both the inn and the town are named after the great Native American Olympian. We had coffee and a snack across the road, where Barry plied me with questions about the hike and I tried to give him thoughtful answers. It was great to reconnect with two friends and allowed me to think about something other than putting one foot in front of the other for a short while.
Alone again, I did my washing, used the Grille Room and had a few beers and tapas before hitting the sack. It had been a great day for me.
Resuming the following morning where Barry had picked me up, I crossed the bridge and gazed up at the climb out of Palmerton, reputedly the toughest stretch on the AT south of New Hampshire. Palmerton had been a Superfund site, seemingly polluted beyond redemption, yet it was now growing back and providing a challenge to hikers at its very beginning.
I absolutely loved it! There was plenty of rock climbing and hand over hand climbing that involved putting away my poles and simply hauling myself up over rocks. I tried to record as much as I could, but this short video clearly shows my exhilaration.
At the top of this little test, I really got into video mode, as the hike was absolutely stunning, along a gorgeous ridge with open views to the countryside and towns. It even provided me with what I’d always imagined the trail to be, with long, easy ridges, expansive views, plenty of sunshine and smooth terrain. I even referred to it as the trail that I had expected.
Then, yet another view that I had to film, with a new word to augment my normal stock of words. It really was a wonderful morning.
I even got a bit environmental on you all!
Then, of course, it all went wrong.
I was loving every moment and moving along effortlessly when, suddenly and without warning, I slipped on some mud that propelled me forward and onto my front, shoving my face into the ground but, more importantly, using my elbow to stop myself on the rocks. The elbow took a real thump and I struggled to my feet to see if any damage was done. The elbow had taken quite a cut and it was fairly deep, with mud and grit embedded inside. Fortunately, I have a first aid kit, so I tried to repair the damage as best I could, yet it was throbbing and all the wonderful momentum had been extinguished.
Diane always likes to know what is going on, so I called her to let her know that I had fallen and had cut myself and was a little shaken up. In circumstances very similar to those at Duncannon a week or so previously, I then totally missed a turn in the path while speaking with her and wandered at least a half mile down a hill, only to realize my mistake and have to slog back up the path.
I eventually came to a road and stopped for lunch, feeling a little sorry for myself. Through the trees, I spotted the word “resort” and wondered if they might have some peroxide I could put on the cut. I wandered about 200 yards to the entry, only to see that it was a ski resort and that there was at least a mile walk uphill to the resort itself. Just then, as so often happens on the trail, a guy in a truck pulled up and offered to run me to the top. His name was Jethro and he was an engineer working on the project. I told him what I was looking for and he led me to the first aid room, found peroxide, sprayed the wound, gave me several band aids then ran me back to where I had been having lunch. Wonderful. I was still there ten minutes later when he skidded to a halt and jumped out to give me back my Nalgene bottle that must have fallen out I the back of his truck. The capacity for kindness is found so often on the trail, yet often missing from everyday interaction.
While still eating lunch, I was joined by Wilderness Hawk and his wife, Cinnamon Girl, along with their friend, Tee Bird. They were very engaging and wanted a drink, which was fine by me, so I joined them when they spotted a guy in a truck who seemed happy to take us to find a bar. Unfortunately, we were still in pretty much a rural area and the best we could find was an ice cream shop, which was a poor alternative, though we all took that alternative gratefully.
Getting back to the trail head seemed just as easy, as two of the shop customers stepped up to drive us back and I spent the next three hours hiking with my new friends. I was eager to get to the Leroy Smith Shelter, so moved ahead while they took a break, encountering more trail magic on a road just before the shelter. Once more, just as a drink was needed.
The following morning, my arm was starting to worry me a little, particularly given my brush with cellulitis in late May, so I looked online for an Urgent Care facility to put my mind (and Diane’s) at ease. Fortunately, there was one in Wind Gap, so I bit the bullet and walked nearly two miles into town from the trail. The doctor decided, given that earlier incident, to treat the wound as if it might develop into cellulitis and gave me the same awful antibiotics and bound the wound more carefully. Never one to miss the eating opportunities inherent in a town, I quickly found a pizza joint nearby and indulged myself in this guilt-free pleasure once more.
Happily, I was able to get a lift back to the trail and met St Rick again and hiked for the rest of the day with him until we got to Kirkridge Shelter, just six miles short of Delaware Water Gap and the end of Rocksylvania. The Maine sisters and J-Rex were leaving as we got there and told us that there was a campsite with a great view just a third of a mile ahead. We considered leaving and seeing if there was space, but in the end we stayed and had a quiet evening.
The following morning, I quickly came upon that campsite and, boy, how I wish I had moved on to it. It was gorgeous and had plenty of room for many more tenters.
Oh well, some you win…..
Talking of winning, just outside Delaware Water Gap, we all ran into Sugar Mama, who hosts the best trail magic seen by any of us thus far. She had everything, from hot food, to fruit, to drinks to supplies and all of it was free to thru-hikers. Her daughter had tried the hike in 2012 and Sug, as she shortens her name, does this to give back to those also thru-hiking. It was glorious. However, I had a mission, which was to get to the Post Office and get not only my food drop, but also my new boots.
This turned out to be nearer than I had thought and, less than ten minutes later, I was standing in my new size 14s and pushing yet more food into my two food bags. A quick limeade in an Haitian fusion restaurant enabled me to recharge my phone and I was off into New Jersey, hiking up and out of town, eager to say goodbye to Pennsylvania and hopeful that the rocks would soon fade away.
I should also mention that I recorded my 16th fall of the trip and my 4th in about three days.
However, prior to making the climb, I was eager to let you all in on what I believe to be a very unlikely record that I had been keeping secret for the past 220 miles.
At the top, I came across this gorgeous pond and took time out to record it, as well as take a pic that landed on Facebook.
With my new boots behaving impeccably, I made good time and got to the Mohican Outdoor Center after a 17 mile day, setting up my tent next to a young couple, Mark and Sarah (how strange to be using real names!), who invited me to join them for proper food, as they were only camping for two days. It was delicious after night after night of pasta or rice. They were fascinated by the hike and pumped me with questions until it was dark.
This morning, in my haste to get 18 miles and into a motel to watch the British Open golf championship tomorrow morning, I set out early and discovered the unexpected beauty that is New Jersey. I hadn’t been expecting too much, but the sheer beauty of it all took me by surprise, continuing rocks notwithstanding. Given how industrial NJ is supposed to be, they have certainly kept some wilderness for people to enjoy.
I’m afraid that this post has gone far too long and I will certainly try to post a little more regularly going forward. However, it is a recap of the week or so since I last caught up and I had so many videos to include.
For those of you still reading, thanks for sticking with it. At the end of this trip, I’ll have an imperfect record of my adventure, but will also have my journal to flesh it out more if I need to. What I hope it reflects is an incredible voyage of discovery for me as a person in tackling things that had previously been beyond my experience, as well as giving you, the reader, a chance to see a taste of what I see and meet some of the kind, and not so kind, characters I’ve met along the way.
Until next time.