Tag Archives: Fran and Steve Davis

When the going gets tough

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 With Fran and Stevephotos 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.

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There’s no fool like an old fool

Sunday, June 29 – Friday, July 4. Turners Gap US Alt 40 (Hagerstown) – Pine Grove Rd (Mt. Holly Springs) (Mile 1106.0 since Springer Mountain and only 1079.3 miles to Katahdin)

This is probably one of the more embarrassing posts I’ve written, mainly because I did something so dumb that it makes even me shake my head in disbelief. However, that is still to come, so I’ll start with where I left off last time, having spent part of the day with my old mate Gilbo.

I got a cab back to Turners Gap early on and it felt great to be back on the trail. From the first moments I knew it was going to be a good day, with a warm sun and gentle breeze welcoming the early Sunday morning. It had something of an English feel to it, with an old church to magnify that feeling. So much so that I felt an early video was in order before I’d even walked 100 yards.

Once I’d moved through this almost soporific start, I found myself hiking at a comfortable, unhurried pace for a couple of miles until I came upon a side road to the first completed monument to George Washington. I normally don’t take side trails, preferring to use up my energy on the AT itself, but I was in such a relaxed mood, with only a relatively short day in front of me, that I wandered up to the monument to get another great view and a slice of Americana. At the top, I met up again with Naturally Hob, who always seems to know about his surroundings and he filled me in on the monument. It is lovely to see a monument in such a splendid setting, overlooking a gorgeous valley in the early morning sun. I knew I was dawdling a little, so left somewhat reluctantly and picked up the pace.

I have been using a solar charger, which Diane bought me for Christmas, to charge my phone on the trip and had noticed the previous evening that it was coming apart a little on one of the panels. Unfortunately this turned out to be the beginning of a catastrophic end, as it came apart completely at the Washington Monument and I took several pics of it before emailing Diane, asking if she could get a replacement from the manufacturer. Typically, she got onto it and one is on the way. Yet another example, as if more were needed, of the importance of my little quarterback at home!!

One thing about Maryland, and later, Pennsylvania, is that the trail often takes you through campgrounds or parks which allow you to fill up with water, a critical element in walking this trail. The hiking is very different, particularly in Maryland, as it is either flat, easy and springy, or hilly, rocky and downright dangerous. The latter hiking is damaging on the shoes and the feet, and certainly slows you down, yet I know it is simply a precursor of Pennsylvania and the rocks that are ahead. Having fallen down on a slippery rock for the twelfth time this week, I have additional reason to be wary of the rocks.

That night, I reached Ensign Cowall Shelter after 14 miles and ran into a couple of thru-hikers, Hobo and Caddyshack, as well as a group of section hikers and a terrific family out on a four day adventure. The dad was particularly interested in the thru-hike and told me the following morning, over a cup of coffee, that his 16 year old daughter was considering attempting it after high school. It constantly buoys me when I hear how inspiring such an adventure is and I’m reminded how lucky I am that circumstances have conspired to allow me the chance to do this.

Leaving camp the following morning, I had about an 18 mile hike planned, yet I was heading for Pen-Mar Park by lunchtime with a mission in mind. I’d heard that pizza could be ordered for delivery to the park and, never one to miss such an opportunity, I set out on that mission.

Before I got there, however, I decided to point out one of the features of the trail that I have hitherto not mentioned. I’d passed through plenty of these spots and had just ignored them, so I thought I’d point out these little blots on the landscape to show that everything isn’t as beautiful as I normally say that it is.

In case you didn’t get the reference, Essex is the county in the UK in which I lived for most of my life yet, for the life of me, I couldn’t remember what these metal monstrosities were. Then it came to me. Doh!!

I got to the park and met up with Lumberjack and Nobody, two great guys I’d met on the trail in recent days. We ordered pizza and recharged our phones and, while we were waiting, I shot this lovely view from the park, majestically overlooking yet another valley and a really gorgeous setting in which to jam pizza into your face. Classy, as ever!

Soon after leaving the park, we crossed the Mason-Dixon Line, separating the south from the north as well as Maryland from Pennsylvania. We were in our seventh state and we really felt like we were motoring now. It is funny how the very act of moving from one state into another gives you the impression of progress, which is probably why the 550 miles in Virginia had us all feeling stalled and a little frustrated by our lack of progress. That may even account for the so-called Virginia Blues.

Hiking with a belly full of pizza (and calories) was great and I arrived at Tumbling Run Shelter at about 6.20pm, only to run into another set of recently-met youngsters, Turbo, Poho, Tomahawk and Doc, along with Lumberjack and Nobody. All good people and very friendly to the old guy, which is always welcome. I set up tent next to another, rather alone, older guy, with his dog, Lucy, who only had a right arm and a right eye (the guy, not the dog). His name was deliciously self-deprecating, Lefty, and we had quite a laugh over it, though I could see how tricky many of the camping actions could be quite a trial for him. However, he refused my offer of help but we had a nice chat and I went to bed thinking how tough life must be for him.

The following day, I had another park in my sights, Caledonia State Park, which meant another 10 mile hike by lunchtime. The terrain was fairly benign and I made the 10 miles in only 4 hours, joining my fellow hikers based around a bunch of picnic tables, with families frolicking in a public pool nearby. It was tempting to go in the pool, but I felt oddly out of place and satisfied myself with a burger and a rest on the grass in the sunshine, while the guy in the concession stand kindly charged my phone for me.

I still had 10 miles of this 20 mile day to go, so I set out after about an hour and a half, making good progress until I started to hear some threatening thunder in the distance. This wouldn’t normally concern me too much, as the noise reverberates from a long way away, but this was clearly coming my way and, with only about a mile or two to go, the storm finally hit me. The rain was absolutely torrential, and immediately utterly soaked me, as I trudged forward through the rapidly liquefying path. I arrived at the shelter completely drenched and had to strip into my only remaining dry clothes, a pair of swimming trunks and my camp shirt. Eventually, the rain subsided, so I set up my tent outside, along with about five or six other guys and gals. There were a number of new faces there, including a really funny Irishman, uninspiringly called Ireland, who kept everybody’s spirits up.

The next morning, I did a quick inventory of my remaining clothes and found that my sweat-soaked clothes of a day or two before were slightly less wet than my rain-soaked clothes, so I reluctantly wore those, along with my swimming trunks; not a good look.

I was heading for yet another park, Pine Grove Furnace State Park, and my mission for today was to not only pass the true halfway mark, but also to celebrate that event at the park by partaking of the Half Gallon Challenge. However, more of that later. Passing the halfway mark was significant, as it meant, for the first time, I was closer to Katahdin than to Springer and it felt like a real accomplishment. Life is full of small victories and deserve to be recognized as such. I was boyishly excited, as you can see from this silly little video.

So, halfway having been reached, it was time for the celebration. This time-honored tradition for thru-hikers is to eat half a gallon of ice cream in as quick a time as possible. I know what you’re thinking, dumb, right? Especially for a 61 year old. Times varied from 90 minutes, down to the best time of 52 minutes by one of my fellow hikers earlier that day. I polished it off in 27 minutes and boasted how easy it had been. I did a time lapse video, but I’m sorry to say that it didn’t upload correctly to YouTube. However, take my word for it, I certainly stuck to the task. Feeling a little smug about my effort, I hung around for a while, looking at the gradually worsening weather, before deciding to chance it and heading out, alone, for the next shelter, seven and a half miles away. My luck held and I made it without rain, meeting up with a young guy I’d met a few weeks before, Bilbo, and meeting for the first time a guy known as Big Sexy, a really friendly, red headed, smiling boy who, when I asked him why he was so named, just shrugged and laughed.

Then it started.

SPOILER ALERT – THOSE WITH SENSITIVE STOMACHS SHOULD SKIP THE NEXT PARAGRAPH

That night, alone in my tent, I realized that I may have made an error by eating pasta on top of my ludicrous amount of ice cream. Indeed, this feeling was exacerbated when I turned on my side and my stomach let out an audible, and painful, groan. “Hmmm,” I thought. This quickly turned to “oh, my God,” as the evident conclusion became quickly apparent. Suddenly, I was scrambling to leave my tent as everything wanted to exit my body as quickly as possible from every possible orifice. It was pitch dark, I was barefoot, virtually naked and desperate and, well, nature isn’t to be ignored and a dramatic evacuation took place. Restored once more to my tent and to the warmth of my sleeping bag, the warning that I had twenty minutes later was far more sudden and even more urgent. I barely poked my head out as I retched and only managed to hold everything before eventually diving into the bushes for an even more intense purging. It was truly awful.

I spent the remainder of the night on alert for another “moment” but, thankfully, I was clearly fully purged and the daylight came without further incident. I was physically, and literally, drained and completely incapable of hiking. Fortunately, I remembered that there was an inn not too many miles away, in Mt Holly Springs, that provides shuttles to hikers, so I called them and asked if they would kindly pick me up at a road only half a mile away. This they did and I pitched up yesterday morning in a dreadful state, completely unable to eat or even drink, even though I was severely dehydrated.

Then, as so often happens on this magical trail, aid came to me in the form of the wonderful Fran and Steve Davis, friends who have been following the blog. They had intended to see me on the trail and, when Fran called and I told her of my predicament, they drove over an hour to not only help me with my laundry, but also to drive me around and try to find gas for my stove. They brought a bunch of supplies with them and were, frankly, just the tonic I needed at that time. Thanks Fran and Steve, you were real life savers. When they left, I still felt weak and decided to stay another night to let everything get back to normal.

This morning, having slept for a solid nine hours, I woke feeling so much better, it was startling. As an added bonus, I discovered that there were two World Cup games on TV today, so I followed through with the plan for another day off the trail and am watching the games while updating my blog.

So, I’ve learned another lesson, which you may think I should have learned by the age of seven, yet it was another lesson that had a happy conclusion and showed me once more that, in your darkest hour, there is always a way forward, albeit one which may not be immediately apparent. I’ll be hitting the trail again tomorrow morning and will stay away from ice cream for at least the next week or so. Hopefully, by then, yesterday morning will have faded from my mind!