June, 2011 Archives

Halfway Point


halfway gang

Just arrived at the halfway point.  I am looking forward to starting the countdown to Katahdin and trying my hand at eating an entire half-gallon of ice cream but not looking forward to ushering Brodie over the craggly rocks of Pennsylvania.  Passed the Mason Dixon line on the AT which is far from a landmark and is actually located in a sketchy area just north of a terrible park at Penmar.  I was expecting a bit more but I am officially north by now. Tied in with a group of hikers by the names of A Game, Shucka, Mountain Dew, Pigeon, and others who I have been moving along for the past few days.  We have hit a bit of rain on a daily basis over the past week but most of the time it is timed nicely to coincide with me being in my tent and thus protected from its wrath.  The days are overcast and warm and mosquitos have begun surfacing.  I killed one on my leg and the blood splatter must have reached a 5 inch diameter.  It was like crushing a paint ball on my leg.  Bug spray will definitely play a role for the near future.

Starting to hit a bunch of boulder areas which you need to climb over.  Hasn’t gotten out of hand yet but I keep hearing about the treacherous last 1/3 of the Pennsylvania terrain.  I have also been pleasently surprised that the trail has us creeping directly through the center of farm lands.  I have been engulfed by fields of corn, wheat, and soy beans so far and can feel much more coming in the near future.  You cross a ton of roads through Maryland and so far in Pennsylvania and it seems that you are never too far from a small convenience store or restaurant.  It is like an extended Shenandoah National Park.  In successive days I stopped at Taromina’s pizza and had a pizza called the Schwarzennegger (due to its size) and the next day I took part in the half gallon challenge at the Pine Grove Furnace general store.  Now let me tell you something about this.  In the days leading up to this I was sure that my ravenous appetite would allow me to down all this ice cream no problem and even after I began with the first few bites I thought that it would be no problem.  But about half-way through the reality sets in and it becomes much less about enjoyment and it turns into a chore.  The last quarter of ice cream was completely taxing and each bite was agonizing up until the very last one.  I got it done in about 35 minutes but did not enjoy the end.  Afterwards I was frozen in place for the next several hours until I made my way back up into the woods.  You can see the pictures below.  Oh and the halfway point was a pretty nice milestone as well.

Came into Boiling Springs in the afternoon and found out the next legitimate camping spot was another 14 miles since the trail takes you through private farm lands.  So I decided to spend the night here and meet my mom for her final relief appearance just outside of Harrisburg.  Went to the tavern in town and chatted up the bartender with a few fellow hikers.  Had Brodie tied up outside and kept sneaking out to check on him as he is a basket case when he is seperated from me.  One of the times I checked on him I found that he had chewed through the hip belt on my backpack and when I went in to pay my check a fellow diner came in and said that a dog had gone tearing by the window and disappeared into the shrubbery and headed for the main intersection in town which is a busy one.  I ran outside panicked that I would see a dead dog lying in the street but after a few glances around I looked toward the gas station across the street and noticed the shopkeeper inside shooing Brodie out while a bunch of patrons stood and watched.  Apparantly the dog ran into the gas station when the door was opened because he thought that I may be inside.  He was going to turn the town upside down looking for me.  The lesson I learned from this is the next time he is tied up outside an establishment I need to make sure he sees which door I enter into so he can stay close to the building once he gets loose.  Quite a scary moment. The bartender mentioned that there was a house in town with a ‘For Sale’ sign that was friendly to hikers so he mentioned that we could camp in their back yard.  A few of us ventured over there and while it was a bit close to neighbors and a weird situation since nobody currently lived in the house we decided to stay here which wound up being a good idea since storms rolled through all night and we could wait them out underneath the roof of the backporch.

Got up the next morning and met mom and had a wonderful weekend in Enola, PA.  We ventured over to Harrisburg and found a new favorite dive restaurant and beer bar called Al’s which we frequented every day.  Back on the trail tomorrow to face Pennsylvania.


Brodie in a new set of dog booties

I was going to experiment with a set of dog booties in order to help Brodie through the rough and rocky terrain of our upcoming jaunt through the Pennsylvania section of the Appalachian Trail.  The results were fairly predictable but that didn’t make it any less funny to witness.  Needless to say I think I am going to go in a different direction.

Through Harpers Ferry


Gathland Park

This section of the trail is steeped in Civil War history.  I am approaching the Mason Dixon line so many battles were waged in this area.  As you walk through the woods you see remains of rock walls and even foundations for houses that were erected many years ago.  Some highlights of the area are Sky Meadows State Park, Gathland State Park, Harpers Ferry downtown area.

After a long and enjoyable time off the trail with family back in VA I ventured back and found the first day to be a struggle emotionally as I was just coming from a period where I was surrounded by loved ones in a comfortable and enjoyable environment and heading down the trail into unknown and unforgiving territory.  The day started out very dull and the first night I wound up staying at the Rod Hollow shelter just to experience the comforts and comraderie of a known entity and fellow hikers.  It wound up being just me and an older man for the first part of the evening and then a whole group headed in headlined by the girl with the shaved head 3-hats, A-Game, the hippy couple and others and the shelter was livened up a bit.  The whole night things were falling from the trees and I even flinched a few times as these tents are basically paper thin and anything that wanted to come crashing through from above pretty much could.  The falling objects wound up being walnuts I believe.

The next morning I was the last one to leave so I had the place to myself and I hovered by the spring as this was a spectacular water source and took the time to mix up a Carnation instant breakfast with some Nido instant milk and I even wrapped up my shin with an ace bandage just to prevent further injury to my overworked shin.  From here I still had stopping on my mind until I found a campsite by a river.  I paused for a bit and soaked in my surroundings as it was a wide open space with leaves and twigs covering the ground.  It was a very relaxing spot and caused me to focus on these special places and to not focus on negative aspects of the journey.  Over the course of the day my dog Brodie wound up chasing down and injuring a Chipmunk, chasing a fox that was about the same size as he, and forcing a turkey into flight and thus abandoning a pack of baby turkey’s that she was tending to.  It was a very active wildlife day and it would have been much more active had I not been able to discourage Brodie from attacking these poor little turkey babies as he was eyeing them with much consideration. 

Set up camp at a spring just before the West Virginia line and found yet another promising spring with fast rushing water just below the site.  Yet another great campsite and one that I set out to find each and every day.  That night brought a violent but brief storm with high winds that had Brodie a little perturbed. 

Moved along the Harpers Ferry the next day.  Ran into my old buddy Spark Plug who wound up coming into the ACT headquarters just before me acquiring hiker number 479 to my 480 as their official tally for northbounders continued.  The area around Harpers Ferry is nothing special but you can imagine the history involved in its formation.  The raiders must have hovered in the very same woods and soldiers must have passed along our very same route but of course this is not documented.  All you are left with is the big items such as John Brown’s fort and a rock overlooking the merging of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers that provided Thomas Jefferson with inspiration.  I was stopped many times by tourists through Harpers Ferry who eagerly awaited my responses to common questions that thru-hikers receive any time they mix with regular society such as what do you eat and where do you sleep and what do you do if it rains.  It was a nice little village and I was in no rush to anywhere so I entertained each and every group that engaged me in conversation as I stood out from the crowd with my 40lb pack and hiking dog.

Wound up at Gathland State Park that night just ahead of storms.  I made a beeline for the vending maching but cringed at the $1.75 price tag associated with a 20 oz soda.  I could not pass it up but I was not going to get more than one.  I than headed to the pavilion at the center of the park complex where I met two hikers who were out for a few days and heading southbound the next day to meet their significant others.  It was an older guy and his daughters boyfriend.  I asked them about camping possibilities and they mentioned that they were going to try to weather the storm under the pavilion by sleeping on the picnic tables.  I had not gone this route the entire time out there so I was intrigued by this as you would not need to set up your tent and thus have to pack it up wet and you were not confined by a shelter.  The storm didn’t wind up coming until about 3am and by that time we had seen much comings and goings in the parking lot in the form of hikers being dropped off, families gathering, and cars being left for day hikes.  We even saw a seemingly normal family get out of their van at around 2:30am, stumble over the mauseleum on the gounds, go through the memorial which they referred to as the ‘Gates of Hell’ and climb down the hill a ways.  The older guy in the pavilion mentioned that the Blair Witch project was filmed in a neighboring town so their focus on the afterlife may have had something to do with this late night diversion but I am figuring that they were monitoring their iphone for the pending storm and saw that it was heading our way and they cut their camping night short and made a beeline back to comfortable environs.  Gathland was a very nice park and by this time I have a renewed vigor for the AT.  I have still yet to hear a good thing about Pennsylvania so this may all change in the coming days.  I am looking forward to eating an entire half-gallon of ice cream at the half-way point but I am wondering if this and the Delaware Water Gap can provide enough motivation to trudge through the unforgiving rocky terrain of the state.




This section of the trail is steeped in Civil War history.

Shenandoah National Park

gorilla bear

Shenandoah National Park is a nice park with gradual climbs and shelters spaced around 10 miles apart.  In this setting hikers are strongly encouraged to stay at the shelters which limits your distance and location options.  Most people wind up doing about 20 miles each day.  One amazing thing about SNP is that each day you can count on the luxuries of town in the form of Waysides which are basically campstores that offer drinks and hot food.  These places are frequented by day hikers and people driving along the Skyline Drive but thru-hikers ravage the hell out of these places.  The last one we probably made 4 trips inside and stopped out on the picnic table outside for 4 hours in the heat of the day.  This did happen to be a 90 degree day so we were in no rush to head up the mountain during the prime heat hours.

You will definitely see or hear bears during your trip through as long as you aren’t traveling with headphones on.  You will almost certainly startle one and send it crashing through the woods.  My first sighting was at Turk’s Gap which was right along the Skyline Drive and a parking area.  I saw two big black bodies that moved sort of like skunks in a herky jerky rounded motion but I soon realized that they were bear cubs and they were running to a tree which they quickly ambled up.  I then saw the momma bear who waited in the bushes just below the tree.  It being my first sighting I lingered maybe a bit too long as I saw the momma bears head pop up above the bush line and she held her gaze on me long enough to let me know that anytime now I could get going.  I realized I overstayed my welcome and I slowly backed away down the trail.

Another funny bear moment happened as I was exiting the park on the way to the road just past the National Zoological Institute and just before the YMCA.  There was an open gap that I was about to head through when I saw the top of a tree just ahead waving around wildly and immediately after this I saw a medium sized bear start shimmying down from the very top of the tree about 50 feet in the air.  He was in a hurry due to my presence so he climbed down in a hurry.  He must have missed a hold as about 20 feet from the ground he lost his grip and dropped to the ground.  He bounced a bit from impact with the ground and then he scurried just out of sight into the brush.  It was a crazy moment as this whole process unfolded just 20 yards in the path just ahead.  I literally had to wait for this to happen because there was no way I could continue on as the tree was right along the trail and there is no way I would walk by a tree with a bear just overhead.

VA into Waynesboro

cedar cliffs

The joy of this are was in the campsites.  Along this stretch I camped on the Cedar Cliffs and was able to watch the lights of the city come on all the while thinking nonstop about that Journey song.  Also camped up on the flat, grassy area next to Spy Rock.  We were surrounded by flowers the entire day.  Also camped along James Creek and had the sound of trains going by across the river.  I have found that my most enjoyable sites are within earshot of a creek with an active railway nearby.  These are ideal spots for me even though I realize that trains are hard to come by outside of a town setting.

Found a campsite along a reservoir and was struck by how eery a large body of water feels when nobody is on it.  I didn’t see a single soul on the water the entire day and into the next.  I did hear my share of water creatures which are like forest creatures but with different sounds.  There was one creature that sounded like a person screaming.  This happened through the evening and into the night.  The stillness of my night was also broken up by the occasional splashing fish.  As I exited this spot I walked through the Brown Mountain Creek community which was basically an area adopted by freed slaves who made their living.  I found a pretty thorough breakdown of the area here:  http://www.nbatc.org/1992Interview.htm. Any place you know a bit about beforehand feels much more interesting when you can walk through and are able to transport your mind to that area as it existed in its prime. It was a low area with an extensive creek system running through with rock buttresses still intact that must have provided the foundation for the community and the mills that the residents operated.

Along Matts Creek, which flows into the James River, there is a series of pools where you can take a dip and I did just that as the days are getting hotter and hotter.  I found a spot with a mini waterfall and just soaked for a spell.  It was a nice cleanse and had me feeling invigorated for the day.  I have been having issues with my right shin and this dip in cold water had a very therapeutic result.  I had been taking easy days over the last few so I stopped just down the trail along the James River.  There was one funny moment when a boat with two guys came up and landed at the bank at my site and two guys got out and started peeing.  They finally realized someone was there and we had a conversation about the AT and their trip down the river.  They were pretty deep into the beers and the one guy had a very hard time getting back into the rowboat and on their way out they handed me a couple of beers for a nightcap.

The stretch ended with a wonderful visit with my mom in Waynesboro.  She came down to make sure that I was holding it together and we actually got out and explored the Waynesboro/Staunton area.  We hit up local art galleries, moved on to Barren Ridge winery where we toured the grounds and watched them prepare for a wedding, headed over to Staunton where we went by her old college (Mary Baldwin) and visited an all-you-can-eat Indian buffet.