Day 80: Eckville Shelter (Port Clinton)

Day 80. Warning in advance, I’m officially in a rotten mood for the 3rd time on this trip. I’m sorry I’ve been complaining a bit lately, but this weather is starting to take its tole on me, and I’m beginning to lose my romantic feelings for the experience of hiking here. Today could have been amazing, it should have been amazing, and it would have been amazing … had it not been another day of nonstop rain!

And not just because of my low spirits to hike wet, that was uncomfortable but not the real issue. It was all the rotten luck the rainy day brought with it. Today’s trail was mostly dirt and wide enough for 6 hikers at once. Today’s views were called the best in all of PA, today’s destination was another enclosed cabin with bunk beds.

BUT.

The wider trail was basically just a wider river. Consistently making any dry footing impossible, and slowing my progress to a crawl.

The views (Pulpit Rock and The Pinnacle) provided nothing but a white cloud of fog. And no dry rock to even sit and rest upon.

The cabin (Eckville Shelter), was full already from 7 hikers who took a Zero Day there. I can’t blame them fully, though I was pretty annoyed a shelter that only holds 6 people would be selfishly taken up for 2 consecutive nights by the same people. And even if I was willing to camp outside in the rain, the camping area was taken up by a boy scout troop.

Also, as long as I’m complaining, my maildrop of food wasn’t at the Post Office as I expected. I got mixed up on boxes and somehow forgot to have this one sent. I had to bum a ride to Walmart a couple miles away to get food quickly, which delayed my start and caused today’s destination to be what it was. Ugh.

By the time I reached the shelter at 6:15, I had worked myself into a frustrated mess. The hikers taking up all the bunk beds were not even there (went into town to see a movie), so I briefly chatted our options with Gandalf who hiked there today as well. He was going to squeeze onto the floor, but I knew I would not sleep a wink in that tiny sardine can if I tried the same. I’m quite claustrophobic when surrounded by other people, and 9 people in that 10×10 enclosed box would be too uncomfortable to imagine. No, not happening.

Fortunately, I found the phone number of a trail angel that lives nearby and gave him a call. He was happy to pick me up, take me back to the Port Clinton Pavilion, and then return me in the morning. It was beyond generous and he did it for no charge. I still gave him some cash and thanked him profusely regardless.

There is one silver lining to this. Tomorrow morning I will visit Frank again, the older gentleman that owns the barbershop in town. He is very hiker friendly, welcoming hikers to sit in his shop to dry off, charge electronics, eat donuts, drink coffee and more. He’s a very interesting guy with stories galore, and a room full of antiques and collectibles on display. He plays music during the day (both from a boom box, and the guitars he keeps in the shop), and gives a good haircut for just $8. I spent a couple hours there this morning before heading out, and look forward to stopping in again tomorrow if there is time.

If the weather doesn’t break, the next 3 days will be very difficult. The dreaded “Rocksylvania” section remains between me and New Jersey. This brings the hardest, sharpest, and steepest rocks the trail has to offer. I will make the most of it, and promise my bad attitude ends with this rant, but I’d much prefer a bit of sun to help too!

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1218.9
  • Start Time: 12:00
  • End Mile: 1234.7
  • End Time: 18:15
  • Miles Hiked: 15.8
  • Miles to Go: 957.2
  • Lodging: Port Clinton Pavillion

Day 79: Port Clinton, PA

Day 79. Once again, the weather gods smiled down on me and it was surprisingly dry the entire day! The forecast has now had it wrong 2 days in a row, which made today’s 24 mile hike into Port Clinton very enjoyable. But is it too much to hope for 3 dry days in a row? My weather app says 100% chance of rain between 4am and 3pm, so I’m guessing this is the end of my unexpected gift.

All of us at last night’s shelter got up around 6am this morning, so we also hiked together as a small group. I haven’t had that much company in weeks, and it was a nice change to hike alongside a few others. With me were Reboot, Mr. Nice and No Need, and we all made it into town together. The hiking was pretty good, though still very rocky at times. I took the three photos below in succession, each 1/2 mile apart this morning. The trail altered back and forth between these three rock grades all day, so there were some nice sections at least.

In addition, there were some pretty swampy areas overrun with water. Furing this 3 mile stretch, finding solid footing was tough within 10 feet on either side, so alternate paths through the trees was required. Frustrating and slow, but common to others as well, as you could see some worn paths beginning to establish themselves. There were also a couple nice views today, which actually had something viewable … all in all, I’d take a hike like this any day out here in Pennsylvania.

Coming into the small town of Port Clinton was an extremely steep 1 mile dirt path decent. I’m thankful even more for the dry day after doing that section, as it would be treacherous and slick with mud. Basically a huge brown water slide. At the bottom, it empties out at a historic railroad station, which was used to support the coal and anthracite mining industry that helped establish this town (pic above). It looks to be a sort of museum now, so it was neat walking through and reading the informational signs on our way into town.

The town itself is very small, home to just one hotel, a few houses, a candy shop, some motorcycle shops, and a restaurant/bar. The latter was a treat, and I learned a lot about the town’s history while enjoying supper and a few beers. This place is called the Union House, and although only open on the weekends, is owned by Herm, the town’s local celebrity. Herm owns most of the town, including the 3 motorcycle sales and repair shops next door, but opens the Union House for fun with friends, and to keep his culinary skills fresh. He’s a great chef, having been trained professionally in Italy, and his cooking was worth the stop alone. The $1.50 beers and pleasant company of his friends didn’t hurt either.

The Union House also rents out rooms on the weekend, but it was too pricey for me at $70. Especially because further up in town is a giant covered picnic pavilion that hikers are allowed to camp in for free. I liked Herm and his friends lot, but my unplanned stay in Lickdale a couple days ago was expensive and I have a budget to keep.

When I got to the pavilion later, everyone was set up already, with a few new faces as well. All told, there are 9 of us here, but it would easily hold 40 people if needed. There is also an outhouse and free jugs of water on hand from the local church. Roof, water, and can … everything a thruhiker needs for a shelter. The one down side is the noise. It’s very loud here, as we are sandwiched between the highway and train tracks, but that’s hopefully something earplugs can fix.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1194.8
  • Start Time: 07:30
  • End Mile: 1218.9
  • End Time: 17:30
  • Miles Hiked: 24.1
  • Miles to Go: 972.0
  • Lodging: Port Clinton Pavillion

Day 78: 501 Shelter

Day 78. After a good night’s sleep and a hearty continental breakfast, Hokie Pokie and I headed back to the trail. We tried looking extra sad and pathetic, in hopes of a hotel patron offering us a ride to the trailhead 3 miles away, but no dice. So we dinner our rain gear and walked back up the Swatara Rail Trail that connects Lickdale to the AT, wasting an hour of hiking and kicking off our official mile counting at 10am.

The weather did end up being better today, with rain only during the morning’s walk. But when I reached the William Penn Shelter 8 miles in, I was still not feeling like hiking a long day. The usual combination of rocks and trail rivers were weighing heavily on my mind (and feet), and the grey gloom surrounding the hilltops didn’t add much either. Ehen I reached the next shelter a few miles later … I knew I was done. Not a horrible day, but not as much distance as I had initially hoped.

Like yesterday, the weather kept me from seeing much around me and enjoying any good views. There would have been a couple neat lookouts, if not covered in fog/cloud, including one that is popular for locals to hang glide from. Now that would have been neat to see! Ironically, the only other time I saw hang gliders was in Waynesboro years ago. Maybe it’s a Pennsylvania thing? I’d like to try that someday…

The shelter I stopped at also had a hand in convincing me to stay. It’s actually more of a cabin, fully enclosed with bunk beds, a table, games, and a giant 10 foot hexagonal octagonal skylight. This is the 501 Shelter, named for its proximity to Highway 501 a couple hundred yards away. It is maintained all season by a caretaker who lives next door and is only made available to backpackers. The caretaker kicks out any other riff-raff that try to take advantage of it for car camping, partying, etc. He introduced himself and gave us the run-down at dinner time, then went back to his house. It’s nice to know some people are here specifically to look out for us thruhikers.

Since today sort of ended up being a Nero Day, I spent my extra time researching and planning out the next couple weeks. Not so much where to go and end, but more on what to expect and what to do if I don’t reach Bear Mountain in time to meet my dad who is flying in. I have bus routes mapped out from all the major trail town between there and here, so I can quickly jump up to meet and continue on with him as planned. Not to worry Pops, I got you!

With these contingency plans in place, I feel better about taking it easy in this torrential rainfall. Tomorrow is supposed to rain all day (of course), but I’m going to try to push for the town of Port Clinton 24 miles from here anyways. I can’t avoid walking in the rain forever, and this would end at a possible hostel. After a nice restful afternoon today, I’m hoping my feet are up for the challenge.

Ending on a positive note, my friend Kari pointed out yesterday that I’d be able to note less than 1000 miles left after today’s trek. She was right, look at those beautiful stats below! I can’t believe how far I’ve come and yet how much is left, haha.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1183.4
  • Start Time: 09:00
  • End Mile: 1194.8
  • End Time: 14:10
  • Miles Hiked: 11.4 (+3.0)
  • Miles to Go: 996.1
  • Lodging: 501 Shelter

Day 77: Lickdale, PA (Swatara Gap)

Day 77. I broke one of my golden rules today, and all I can blame it on is the desire for a dry bed. In my pre-trip planning, I said I would never walk more than 1 mile off trail for resupply or lodging. But, when it rains all day … it is easy to convince myself otherwise. So I am sitting here at the Fairfield Inn of Lickdale, which is a 3 mile road walk from the AT, drying off and warming up.

This week of non-stop rain is going to seriously test my will, but as I mentioned yesterday, it is great to know I have options like this available if I want them. And today, I wanted them. (Spoiler alert, I’ll probably want them tomorrow and the next day too…). As for Lickdale, this town’s offering is basically just a truck stop off of highway 81, with a few fast food and hotel chains surrounding the off-ramp. But it just so happens, those are the two things I like most in this situation, so there is a smile on my face.

The whole day’s hike can be summed up as “rain and river”. The rain started overnight and didn’t stop all day (still hasn’t, and won’t for days). Because of this, the otherwise soft dirt trail was converted to a small river consistently along the way. I hiked a slow 2 – 2.5 miles an hour as I did my best to walk along the “riverbanks” or step on any rocks/roots protruding high enough up. I’m not sure if the photo above does it justice, but that is pretty much what I had to deal with non-stop. I eventually gave in and walked through it naturally, albeit reluctantly.

There were some neat sights today I would have enjoyed on a better day, but only stopped briefly to see before walking on: a waterfall, an old coal mining village, a steel bridge, and a couple vistas. All would have been nice rest breaks to take in, had the weather not dissuaded me. Still, they were great to see and provided momentary mood brighteners.

The trail was manageable for the first 10 or 13 miles, but then it started to drain on me and my mind wandered to how I could creatively solve it. I finished my planned 18 miles at 3pm, arriving at a small but dry Rausch Gap Shelter. Two of the hikers from last night were already set up there, but another hiker was contemplating going on.

His name is Hokie Pokie, and we quickly came up with the plan together to hike another 5 miles to the highway, and then 3 more off-trail to town. It would make this a long 27 mile day for me, but I didn’t care if it meant a comfortable rest afterward.

After the decision was made, we immediately set out. I knew Hokie Pokie from a couple sporadic meetings within the last couple weeks, and he seemed like a nice enough guy to share a room with. Those last 8 miles were anything but easy though, as our spirits was low and our energy lower. We hiked it in 3 hours and ended with a celebratory Burger King dinner before settling in at the hotel.

My conscience is also cleared slightly in that this helps solve my problem for tomorrow’s distance concern. By doing 5 more official AT miles than planned today, I can attempt to push for another 26 miler tomorrow and reach Eagles Nest Shelter. However, I also have the option of doing only 20 miles and staying at a hostel I didn’t notice earlier. I realize I’m becoming a bit of a rain wimp, but given the 5-day forecast … I think we all know what my decision will be tomorrow afternoon. And I’m perfectly ok with that.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1159.3
  • Start Time: 08:00
  • End Mile: 1183.4
  • End Time: 18:40
  • Miles Hiked: 24.1 (+3.0)
  • Miles to Go: 1007.5
  • Lodging: Fairfield Inn (Lickdale, PA)

Day 76: Peters Mountain Shelter

Day 76. After a surprisingly good night’s sleep at the Doyle, I woke up refreshed today and ready for a Nero Day. I wanted to have a hot breakfast and then do some laundry, but the only other goal was to reach Peters Mountain Shelter 11 miles away before today’s storm hit. Since today’s hike was primarily ridge walking, being exposed on the highest elevation in the area would be dangerous and stupid.

I left the Doyle around 7am and headed across the street to Goodie’s Restaurant. A small town breakfast joint with the basics. Nice people and good food were plenty, and I soon had my fill (for $8). Next, I headed down the street to the laundromat. I ran into a couple new faces there, Domatello and Joe Kool, who did a crazy 45 mile hike into town over night. They were waiting for the Doyle to open and killing time where they wouldn’t bother others. I could not believe their long day and told them a day of rest was well deserved.

Doing laundry took about an hour, and I killed time reading magazines and planning out the day. I looked goofy wearing just my rain gear while everything else washed and dried, but that’s pretty common on the trail. I call this the Backpacker Tuxedo, as it’s about as classy as one can get. I couldn’t resist a photo to capture my silly moment (above).

With everything clean, I packed up and headed out of town. The next 2 miles is spent walking through Duncannon residential neighborhoods and crossing the two giant rivers that meet here (the Susquehanna and the Juniata). Although both rivers were brown and mucky, it was still a beautiful sight to take in.

Then the climb went up. Getting back in the mountains meant a climb up 1000 feet over the next couple miles. Following that, it was ridge walking along a mix of soft trails and rocky precipices. All in all, not too bad a hike, though I was very sluggish from the morning breakfast I ate far too much of. I also was caring extra water (3.5 liters total), as the guidebook warmed of no stream access throughout today’s entire journey. It was a blistering hot day, so the extra water was heavy, albeit necessary.

I reached my shelter destination very early in the day, around 3pm, which was perfectly timed. Within an hour the sunny blue skies turned to grey and thunder was heard menacingly in the not too distant distance. By 4pm, it hit … hard. Rain, wind, hail, lightning and thunder barreled across the mountain range in menacing force. This shelter is very well built though, as if for just this storm protection purpose. It has a lofted sleeping area away from the exposed side, and has a giant tarp to roll down as a wind/rain block for most of the exposed area below. The picnic table is in the shelter as well, which sleeps 12 comfortably. You could tell it was fairly recently built, so I was happy to be in its safety to wait out the carnage.

I ate an early dinner and crawled into bed until the storm passed. After an hour or so, you’d barely know it rained at all. Some other hikers cane and went, and now 5 of us remain for the night. I believe Scutch and Apollo were planning to make it here today as well, but the storm may have deterred them earlier. It’s still early as a type this (6pm), so they or others may wander in before the night is through.

This section of the AT has very spread out shelters, which makes planning both easy and difficult. From here, it is 18 miles to the next one, then 13 more, then 20 after that. So tomorrow’s destination is no problem, but then it gets tricky. I’d like to do somewhere between 13 and 33 the day after tomorrow, which means I’ll be camping at whatever tentsite I can find along the way. But it’s also supposed to rain all week, meaning I’ll be camped out in the wet. Not my ideal situation, but I’ll make do. Port Clinton is the next town stop, 60 miles from here. So I’ll likely come in cold and wet, but that warm bed is always good motivation to push through the rain.

When people ask me why I chose to hike the AT instead of the PCT (closer to our home in Los Angeles), this is the reason I tell them. The community and support along this trail is a great aide to completing it. Knowing I can get to a town or hostel every few days is a huge help, and can get you through the toughest of dilemmas. More than once, I’ve been at low spirits from weather and been able to find a bed or ride to a bed within hours. That can go a very long way in helping heal the mind and spirit while traversing the wilderness for 5 months. So because of that, I’m not too worried about the rain to come. It will be miserable during (especially on the ridge rocks), but it will end quickly and provide me a place to reboot and keep moving North.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1148.3
  • Start Time: 09:45
  • End Mile: 1159.3
  • End Time: 15:00
  • Miles Hiked: 11.0
  • Miles to Go: 1031.6
  • Lodging: Peters Mountain Shelter

Day 75: Duncannon, PA

Day 75. I got a late start out of Boiling Springs today, expecting to do a short 14 mile stroll to Darlington Shelter before today’s forecasted rain arrives. Spoiler alert for the week, it’s supposed to rain and storm nonstop, so this will probably be a common thought each morning. However, after just a few miles, I ran into old friends Scutch and Apollo, who were planning to go 15 more after that into the town of Duncannon.

I didn’t really want to do 25 miles, but they made it sound like a challenge. And a challenge, whether intentional or not, is pretty much all my competitive spirit needed to decide I could do that too. In looking at my weather app, the forecast had also shifted to clear skies until later at night … and that was all it took.

It also helped that today was another mostly flat one, as the trail wound through more pastures and farmlands. One landmark early on was called Scott’s Farm, which is actually an ATC regional office. There wasn’t much to it, besides a couple picnic benches and water spigots, but it was a friendly place to rest. The farmhouse was off limits and the water contaminated, but it was a good snack stop regardless.

I reached Darlington Shelter around 2pm and realized I could easily get to town by 7pm at my current speed. I had lunch their with a couple flip-floppers (who thought I was a bit crazy to go on), then headed north again. Noodle, one of the flip-flop hikers told me to keep a lookout for Field Trip, a friend of hers I’d soon pass ahead.

About an hour later I found him, crouching a couple feet off trail. Thinking I may have stumbled upon an emergency #2 in progress, I announced my presence and approached slowly. Thankfully, my assessment of the situation was wrong and he was instead admiring something on the ground. When I got near, he excitedly pointed out a very rare and beautiful wild flower hidden in the grass. I immediately recognized it as the official flower to my home state of Minnesota – The Pink Lady’s Slipper! I have not seen one in bloom since I was a young child, so shared in his excitement and took a few photos for myself. A beautiful find to see this rare orchid along the trail!

Later on, I had another neat sighting, as a trail crossing was marked with orange blazes for the Darlington Trail. This is probably only interesting to me, but “Orange Blaze” was stupidly the name I wanted to give myself in my pre-trip planning. I know, it’s dumb. I soon tossed that idea out and let the trail name me in it’s own way (Hello Sharkbait!). But it was neat to see the idea represented in real life.

The last 5 miles were pretty rough terrain, as my favorite rocks were back again to mock and torment me. It started to drizzle as well, which didn’t help the spirits much either. But I was hiking alongside Scutch and Apollo now, so the time passed quickly as we chatted in stride. They are a newly engaged couple from Ohio, hiking the trail together before relocating to their hometown for work. Really nice people and very strong hikers. They average 25+ miles a day! I’m actually surprised to see them, as it had been a long time since we met back in North Carolina. Apparently a bad case of food poisoning pushed them off trail for a few days, which is how I was able to catch up. Ironically, my sister and her family saw them twice over the past couple weeks, though I kept just missing them.

Around 7:15, I made it down the last mountain and into Duncannon. I somehow missed a turn about 1 mile back though, and ended up on a side trail down from Hawk Rock. It emptied in the same place, but means I missed that official mile of the AT. If I were a purist, I would have turned around and climbed back up to the junction … but I’m not a purist and consider that mile done with an asterisk.

Walking into town, I straddled the road for another couple miles until I reached the famous and historic Doyle Hotel (pictured above). I’m not sure I can justly describe this place accurately, but I’ll try. The Doyle is an institution on the AT. It is an old 3-story hotel originally built in the 1770s, and hasn’t been upgraded much since. It burned down in the early 1800s, was rebuilt and bought (then sold) by Budweiser at the turn of the 20th century, and has hosted hundreds of hikers since Jack Doyle bought it with his Irish Lottery winnings in 1944. The current owners acquired it in 2001 and are old but sweet, caring greatly for this building and the hiker community that now supports it. The bar has good food and drink as well, and the atmosphere is very friendly.

The accommodations are another story though. I enjoyed it, but anyone with TripAdvisor standards above 2-stars should pass this place up. My room has just enough space for a bed and dresser, both which could be original 18th century furniture. The carpet is at least 40 years old, and the mattress and linens could easily be as well. A bucket exists in the corner, which I assume is to collect water from the ceiling if it rains. The hotel has one communal bathroom/shower on each floor, which was riddled with water damage. As I took a shower, water dripped down on me from the shower being used above through a hole in the ceiling.

I say all this not to scare you away or defame the place, but to set the expectations of hikers who make it to Duncannon in the future. Like I said, this place is an institution and worthy of everyone’s visit. I actually like it quite a bit and plan to Nero here tomorrow while I do laundry down the street. I don’t think I could stay another night though, everyone has their limits…

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1122.7
  • Start Time: 09:15
  • End Mile: 1148.3
  • End Time: 19:15
  • Miles Hiked: 25.6
  • Miles to Go: 1042.6
  • Lodging: The Doyle Hotel

Day 74: Boiling Springs (PA Road 174)

Day 74. Week 10 video is up. Tons of family in this one as I close out SNP and reach Harpers Ferry. Enjoy!

Bad weather loomed above me today, but I was able to stay dry most of the morning. Eventually I was overcome by late afternoon and the rain opened up over me, but even then it wasn’t so bad. It’s definitely easier when you know you are hiking to a fine bed at the lovely Allenberry Resort again.

After last night’s late night escapades (hockey playoffs, beers, and jigsaw puzzles), it was slow moving for all of us in the morning. Eventually we made our way to breakfast at Cafe 101, which has a big backpacker breakfast of eggs, toast, potatoes, meat and pancakes for something like $9. I of course ordered it, though couldn’t come close to finishing … I think a half gallon raspberry ice cream is still taking up most of the real estate in my stomach.

following breakfast, I made a quick stop at the outfitter for a new food bag, then we went back to Allenberry to pack up and hit the trail. One of the backpacks I ordered came in on Thursday as well, so my sister brought it up and I transferred the contents of my old pack to the new ULA OHM 2.0 to test it out. It was perfect. The size was perfect, the fit was perfect, and the comfort was good. I say only good for that last one because after a full day of use, I can tell I need another day or so to “break it in”.

With my shiny, new, waterproof backpack, I was in great spirits and ready for some rain hiking. The family joined me for the first couple miles, but then we said goodbye and I continued on northward. This was the last weekend with them, though they will be joining up again for part of the White Mountains.

Besides it being a much longer day that I first thought, there were only two memorable moments in today’s hike to share:

1) The Rock Maze. A 1 mile stretch of trail that meandered over, under and around giant boulder crevices and throughways. It was a bit frustrating to get over one obstacle, only to have to scour your surroundings for the next directional maze clue. But it was also really fun, as you can get creative exploring and figuring out which way to turn next. A good activity for a normal day, albeit not as much so in the rain.

2) The pastures. The final 2 miles into Boiling Springs cross through big farm fields. The trail was purposely setup to cross through here in order to maintain the historical accuracy of the trail’s footpath trough farms of this area in the past. It was wet and smelly, but otherwise calm and relaxing.

The rest of the hiking today was the usual … mostly just uphill and downhill. But it was dry-ish until close to 5pm. It was drizzling all day, but at 5pm the storm finally hit me and it rained hard the rest of the night. Since today’s hike had me hiking late into the night, that proved to be a pretty long time. Three cold hours.

But eventually I got to PA Road 174 and walked back up the hill to the resort. I am exhausted as I type this, so I’m headed to bed. Tomorrow brings more storms unfortunately. Happy trails!

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1103.4
  • Start Time: 12:30
  • End Mile: 1122.7
  • End Time: 20:15
  • Miles Hiked: 19.3
  • Miles to Go: 1068.2
  • Lodging: Allenberry Resort

Day 73: Pine Grove Furnace

Day 73. Another beautiful day in the books! And a pretty important milestone and achievement to boot. I will admit though, it was really hard to leave Quarry Gap Shelter this morning … it was so picturesque and tranquil at sunrise, I simply had to take it in as long as possible. But as 8am approached, I reluctantly packed my bag and headed north like I’ve done for the past 10.5 weeks.

Today was an important day as I had miles to put behind me and the official halfway point was waiting to greet me at the end of my hike. Since I had that good long day yesterday, it was only 18 miles today. The day went really quick and by 1pm, I reached a monument on the trail displaying the officially halfway point (though technically, it does move a bit each year so probably was off by a mile or so). Regardless of technical accuracy, given it’s clear significance, I snapped many photos to commemorate the moment. Then I sauntered on to finish the last 3 miles of my day.

However, I was fortunate to yet again have my family come out and join me, and soon heard the tramping of tiny boys’ boots on the trail ahead of me. I gave a patented Tom Neiman “Yo”, to test the audience, and they excitedly returned it. My dad brainwashed us well (just kidding, love you dad!). Reunited once again, we all hiked the last couple miles together to Pine Grove Furnace State Park.

When we arrived, I told my family about the “Half Gallon Challenge” that thuhikers do at the general store here. For those unfamiliar, this is a famous food challenge where hikers must consume a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting to commemorate finishing half the trail. If accomplished, they get to sign the record book and receive a tiny wooden spoon trophy. I was wary of my ability to do this, as I still don’t have the hiker hunger common in others, where your appetite never seems satisfied. But the boys (and their mom) were adamant I could accomplish this feat and promised to cheer me on. So, I gave it a go.

To complete the challenge, first you pick out and eat a 1.5 quart tub of Hershey’s ice cream, then you go back for a pint of more generic flavors scooped into a cup. The Hershey’s options are much better (and tastier), and I was delighted to see my favorite flavor was an option. Raspberry! With that find, I felt much more optimistic about my chances. A fellow hiker named Charley Horse loaned me a metal spoon to better attack it, and I dug in.

My sister documented the whole thing while everyone really did cheer me on. And, I’m proud to admit, I was victorious! The raspberry definitely made the difference, as it was tasted amazing good going down … alternatively, I could barely stomach the final pint of peach. But I did, then I took a triumphant photo with my empty tubs and spoon trophy, amazed at where it all went. At least I got my calorie fill for the day, right?

The other thing to do in Pine Grove Furnace State Park is to visit the AT Museum. Similar to the ATC HQ in Harpers Ferry, this building held photos and relics of all the famous people and moments in the trails existence: Earl Shaffer’s guitar, Grandma Gatewood’s rucksack, the original Katahdin finisher sign and more. They also had a children’s museum that we toured with the kids, showing them what to expect when they join again for the White Mountains next month. All in all, it was a really fun afternoon.

I also ran into the last hiker ahead of me whose name I knew. Gandalf (the 3rd of that name this year) was a guy I met on my very first night back at Stover Creek Shelter in Georgia. He had plans to spend the night with his family as well, so we discussed possibly hiking together tomorrow. He also finished the half gallon challenge, so he’ll be a worthy hiking partner.

After that, the family and I drove into Boiling Springs for the night, which is another 16 miles along the trail. The AT crosses town right next to the amazing Allenberry Resort and Theater, which is our lodging for the night. This place is far nicer than I deserve, and quite popular tonight. Besides their normal playhouse crowd, they are host to a wedding, a 70th birthday party, and a high school prom today. It’s crazy a nice place! So nice that when I hike back to Boiling Springs tomorrow, I’ll be staying here again. I mean, it would be rude not to, right?

My family, and some of their extended family who have been reading along (shout out to Marcy and Rachel!), all went out to dinner at Anile’s Pizza where I somehow managed to eat an entire chicken parmigiana sandwich. My stomach is not pleased with me tonight, but some treats are just worth the pain.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1086.2
  • Start Time: 07:50
  • End Mile: 1103.4
  • End Time: 14:00
  • Miles Hiked: 17.2
  • Miles to Go: 1087.5
  • Lodging: Allenberry Resort

Day 72: Quarry Gap Shelter

Day 72. The extra mileage I hoped to put in yesterday was made up today. I got up early and hit the trail before 7:30, allowing me to leisurely make my way up the 25 miles to my destination tonight with plenty of rest breaks in-between and daylight to spare. And what a place it is! There is something special going on with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) that maintains the couple hundred miles of trial around Harpers Ferry. This is another great shelter they support with amenities galore. In fact, this one even has a bit of B&B style appeal that could even make my mother consider a backpacking overnight. :-).

The Quarry Gap Shelter is maintained by Jim “Innkeeper” Stauch, who has clearly put work in to this haven. It’s a peaceful oasis in the rhododendron forest you hike through on your way uphill. It’s technically 2 small shelters that hold 3 people a piece, but are connected by a large overhang covering and picnic table. Beyond that, there are elevated tent pads, a separate covered picnic area, benches, games, a bear box and flowery accoutrements everywhere you look. It would be very easy to grow roots here and enjoy this tranquility permanently if I wasn’t on a mission. I mean, look at the cute detailed additions below!

I am not alone here, but it’s not too crowded either. About 7 people are spread around different parts of the shelter area (a dad and his 6 year old daughter walked up as I wrote that, bringing the total to 9). As I sit here writing this, there is a hiker playing guitar near the shelter, two more swinging on the bench, and 2 more wandering the paths that curiously stretch out like fingers from the center. I’m telling you, it’s a special place. Once again, I’ll be adding this to the king growing list of places to come back to in the future.

It was worth the long day to get here, although (of course) the last 2 miles are straight up. This morning started with calm blue skies and it didn’t change all day. Early on, I got a nice view at High Rock (though unfortunately the vista’s rocks were covered in spray paint graffiti … a sad sight to see). That rock cliff has a road that goes right to it from Pen Mar Park below, so it must be a common teenager hangout.

Down at Pen Mar Park, a couple miles further along, a beautiful picnic area with the same incredible western view greets you. Normally, this is a great place to stop, as it has a concession stand and bathrooms for the public … but they were closed, even though the guidebook said it should be open. Harrumph.

Just after the park, you cross some railroad tracks and come to a signpost identifying the MD-PA state line – and with it, the Mason Dixon Line. Continuing the trend of awesome history separating this part of the trail from the rest, I sat at the border and pondered it’s significance while I enjoyed a snack. Along with this line that divided our county, I saw signs for Antietam, Gettysburg and other relics of our nation’s soiled past as I walked today. It is both humbling and empowering to hike through places where so many American soldiers killed each other to secure our nation’s future. You read about it, you watch movies about it, you imagine it … but you can’t truly understand it. Standing right at the spot where blood was spilled is a different feeling altogether. Truly powerful stuff for the mind of a Minnesotan to ponder, whose state barely existed in the same world.

I passed a few other shelters and campgrounds today on my trek northward, all showing off the good graces of the PATC some more. I saw a few day hikers as I went as well (startling most of them as I turned the corner singing to myself). But i didn’t see any other thruhikers until the end. Even with my long day, filled with breaks and pauses, I still was able to call it quits before 5pm. I almost considered going further, but this shelter was too beautiful to pass up for the night. It’s one issue is lack of trees to hang, so I’m sleeping in one of the shelters tonight. But, it’s so clean and pretty, I’m ok with that.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1060.8
  • Start Time: 07:30
  • End Mile: 1086.2
  • End Time: 16:15
  • Miles Hiked: 25.4
  • Miles to Go: 1104.7
  • Lodging: Quarry Gap Shelters

Day 71: Raven Rock Shelter

Day 71. I had hoped to put in near 25 miles, but for no good reason it was a sluggish day for me. I started late, I hiked slow, and the trail just seemed to go on and on without end. There were some neat sights early on, but the afternoon was met with on and off rain that I never seemed to get comfortable with.

A few miles in, I was able to take a short side trail and visit the original Washington Monument (above). This stone tower was built in 1827 (60 years before it’s more famous brother), and provided snippets of our 1st President’s history on signposts leading up. It was an exceptional landmark to see, and upon climbing up to the top … gave a breathtaking view of Maryland. Unfortunately, it also gave a clear view of the fast approaching storm clouds, so I quickly downed my Snickers snack and moved on.

I used to live in DC, so I am familiar with the high humidity and daily 15 minute rainstorm that is common during summer afternoons. Today was a bit like that, but with the rain returning for a quick dump every few hours. The good news is that I was lucky in that the foreshadowed thunderstorm was heard in the distance, but never directly above me. That was a nice surprise at least.

Like yesterday, I saw plenty of hikers today. I realize now that this is because I am in the middle of AT flip-flop thruhiker season. For those unfamiliar, a flip-flopper is someone who starts in the middle of the Appalachian Trail and hikes North to Maine, then flies down to Georgia and hikes back to the middle where they started. There are many variations on it, but that is the general idea. The most common place to start/end is Harpers Ferry, and the most common time is May.

So there is a new influx of hikers on the trail with me now. I don’t mind this at all, as it’s nice to have the company of others again. Today’s shelter, for example, has 15-20 hikers here with me tonight. I won’t see most of these hikers again, as they are starting slower than my current pace, but there will undoubtedly be new hikers to meet each day for a couple weeks.

It’s not as common as the standard Northbound hike I am doing, but it’s becoming more popular with the help of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). They have been promoting this strategy for years, as it helps their cause to lessen the human impact of overcrowding the trail, and allows their HQ location in Harpers Ferry to help educate and support you better from the start. Last year, approximately 4000 people started Nobo from Georgia, whereas 400 started a flip-flop in Harpers Ferry. In case you are curious, the completion rates are about the same, 20% no matter which direction or style you try it. Statistics junkies can learn more halfway down the page here.

I chatted for a bit with the other hikers over dinner, and laughed to myself on how green the flip-flippers are right now. I was 100% the same way when I started of course, talking proudly about everything I thought I knew but had yet to experience. And although I felt well educated (and they sound it too), nothing compares to actually being out here. I’m humbled in that realization as I write this Day 71 post … I was the most prepared person I knew, and I got a lot wrong. When it comes to thruhiking, nothing can prepare you except a thruhike. You simply don’t know until you know. And now you know. 🙂

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 1040.2
  • Start Time: 08:20
  • End Mile: 1060.8
  • End Time: 16:15
  • Miles Hiked: 20.6
  • Miles to Go: 1130.1
  • Lodging: Raven Rock Shelter