Tuesday, July 19, 2016

By the Numbers, Round Two

Miles hiked on the AT this time: 437
Total miles hiked on the AT in three sections: 1,206
Weight lost, in pounds: 18
Bears seen: 1
Cattle who blocked Trail: 0

Snakes who blocked Trail: 1
Deer who blocked Trail: 8

By the numbers round 1 (does not include Mass. section last year): Link

Until next time.

Homeward bound

Sunday, July 17, 2016
Northborough, MA

Train is at 7:20, and am ready to go at 6:30. Say farewell to Sketch / Gabe, wish him luck, and leave. No use lingering good byes, its been great to hike with him for three weeks (although it feels much longer).

Train arrives from Washington on time, and also arrives in Philadelphia on time where I wait for the train heading toward Boston.

There are plenty of food options here. Buy a sandwich and drink for a later lunch, and settle in to wait. Train north also arrives, and departs on time.


Deb meets me, also on time. Very glad to see her, and to be on final stretch home after a most excellent adventure.


Saturday, July 16, 2016
Harrisburg, PA (1,112.4)

Start early as per usual, and this will be the final day of this section hike. Breakfast was pretty light, two formerly frozen "Eggo" waffles, coffee, and juice.

Leaving Pine Furnace

Motor through the first seven miles and am at the James Fry Shelter (1109) at 10:30 for water and a light lunch. Have hit my still injured left foot three times already with varying shades of pain.

Novel "signs" on trees direct to water and shelter.

Am shooting for Boiling Springs at the Alec Kennedy Shelter (1117), which will leave four miles the next day before going into Harrisburg, but at road crossing at Sheet Iron Reef Road (1112) decide enough is enough. Its hot and humid again, have banged up my left foot a couple more times coming through rocks, and see little value to pushing for ten more miles.

Waiting on Sketch, with trail shirt and bandanas drying.

Text Sketch, he's fine with an early entry into Harrisburg. Arrange for a shuttle and settle in to wait for Sketch's arrival while checking hotel. Place I have a reservation has rooms, but price has increased. Hope we can deal with changing the reservation when we get there. Change Amtrak ticket from Monday to Sunday.

Sketch arrives, talk through change, and I call driver who arrives shortly there after. Get to hotel, looking just a bit out of place with our hiker garb and aura, walking in past people dressed up for some formal event.

Despite reservation for tomorrow and apparent availability today, hotel is out of rooms, but may be able to squeeze us in but have to wait 20 minutes. Start looking for another, which Sketch finds at a nearby Hilton, so we switch. Turns out there's a state-wide American Legion conference going on based there, putting pressure on the few hotels in town.

"Sorry sir, we just ran out of rooms."

Clean up, have a "first dinner" at hotel bar, then go out to walk some since this is the state capitol. See that building, plus others, and return to hotel for second dinner of steak.

Sensory overload. Oysters, IPA, chicken wings.

State capitol, Sketch for scale.

Town is pretty quiet for a Saturday.

Two signs are better than none

Friday, July 15, 2016
Iron Master's Hostel (1102.1)

Back on the trail ahead of Sketch at 7:15 AM.

Today will be like yesterday, hot and humid, with few views, and lots of time in the woods. Pushing 20 miles again as we are accelerating toward Boiling Springs, PA, my stopping point for this section hike.

Eventually cross first of the two half-way markers for the AT. The first moves every year, to keep in line with the changing distance of the AT.  The length of the AT changes because of ongoing modifications to the trail. Many of the recent changes have been changing traditional "PUDS", or Pointless Ups and Downs, into switch backs, which are less strenuous but longer.

2016 Midway Point of 1,094.55 miles

There are lots of snakes around the trail, I've seen my share of non-poisonous ones, but this was my first Timber Rattlesnake. Looked like a young adult, three or so feet long, but not moving. Not rattling either, but I wasn't about to walk by, so found small rocks and started tossing them to startle the sunning beast back into the undergrowth. Only paid attention when actually struck, and ignored even very near misses. Eventually slithered off, and gave it a full minute before walking briskly by.

This is the second marker, built in 1985, still maintained and in service.

Close to the end of the hike day, passed the 1,100 mile marker

Stay at the Iron Master's Hostel, which is part of Pine Grove Furnace state park. 

This area was the location of an early iron mine, which eventually morphed into an iron smelting business that supplied cannon balls to the Union Army in the Civil War. 9,000 Union troops protected the place, at one time thought to be a potential target for Lee's excursion in to Pennsylvania in 1863, which soon culminated in the Battle of Gettysburg.

Hostel is pretty empty, with three of us in a 16-bunk "Men's Dormitory" and only one woman, who is taking an authentic Civil War uniform sewing class at Gettysburg.

Lucky Day

Thursday, July 15, 2016
Caledonia State Park (1082.3)

We have a nearly 20 mile hike set for today. The breakfast at the B&B both days has been substantive: fresh fruit, coffee, orange juice, pastry, and an egg-bacon-cheese sandwich. All the major food groups for a successful day on Trail.

Owner brings us back to Pen Mar Park for the trail head, which we are on around 8:00 AM.

Starting another day.

Two tenths of the way in we hit the Mason-Dixon line. Sketch asks for a picture, and as he is settling in he seems to be bowing to the Line - my favorite. Take a more traditional picture as well.

"I am not worthy!"

Another waypoint reached.

Hike today, not surprisingly, is hot and humid. We hike separately as we always do, but meet up at Old Forge Park (1071.2) for lunch. There's a potable water faucet here (we have had to rely on springs and streams little during the last five days or so), a picnic table, and a group of supervised children playing in the field next to us. 

Its not until mid-afternoon our day takes a difficult and strange turn.

Come around a corner, ahead of Sketch by some distance (not sure how much), and see what turns out to be a young mother, two young children and a young dog sitting on a rock. They look beat. She asks if I have any water to spare, and I said "Yes, of course." Pull off a liter bottle (carrying maybe 2 1/2 total at the time) and they drink heavily.

I ask where they're going and she says they are hiking in the state park but can't seem to find their way out. Check Guthook and the park she's speaking of is 3.5 miles away. I ask if she knows she is on the Appalachian Trail, and she says no. Sketch arrives soon after and I fill him in. He also offers water to all four, including the dog.

Our adventure begins. Paul Bunion, Cary, and Ben (2 years old).

Cary, the Mom, has no water and no food. Will is six, Ben two, and Loki a german shepherd mix is seven months. Sketch checks them out, determines everyone appears well hydrated, so we get them turned in the right direction, and Sketch and I slowly head down the trail.

First Sketch, then I, drift back. We can't leave them here. We start down the trail with the family in tow but progress is slow. We pass the Rocky Mountain Shelter, which has a water supply below it. Sketch offers to take my two empty water bottles (a liter each) and get water. I'll continue on with the family.

Ben is running at about 3/4's of a mile an hour, which means it could take us four or five hours to get off trail (its around 3 PM). Cary tries carrying him, but can only do so for short distances. Luckily Loki is able to keep up without carrying. Will talks a mile a minute, he is a big sports fan (Ravens, Orioles, Capitals) and spouts out scores and statistics seemingly without end. Start to wonder if he's a savant of some kind or making things up, its hard to tell. Regardless, we're getting along fabulously. 

Loki, Cary, Ben (using one of my hiking poles)
Starting to get worried about Sketch, its been over half an hour. Its not until later that I realize what he'd signed up for. 0.2 miles to the shelter, plus 0.3 miles downhill to, then uphill from, the water source, so a mile of additional hiking, plus filtering what turned out to be six liters of water adding six pounds to his trail weight. No small feat. 

Sketch arrives with plenty of water for all. Adds in some Skittles candy for trail energy. 

Realize we will have a hard time getting off hill if we can't move Ben along, so offer to carry him on my shoulders which he gladly accepts (phew!) Start down trail then see a huge boulder field, and suggest to Sketch we take turns passing Ben up. Sketch takes Ben and scrambles up the rock field and continues on with him until the end.

Ben releasing the "steering wheel" (Sketch's head)
Gradually get down hill, with frequent breaks. 
Sketch, Loki, Cary, Will, Ben

Water runs out but we make it to Route 30 (four lane highway) around 5:30 PM. Hold up hands to slow or stop traffic so family and Sketch can get across safely. 

Sketch continues to state park where family van is, I go down highway to get some dinner since we had originally planned to stay at a hostel and I'm short one meal. We will meet and stay at the state park's campground.

They get to the park and Mom can't remember where she parked van, so takes another 30 minutes to get that settled. Sketch gets them packed into car, both children crying, and she says "Thanks."

Stay the night in a large, group rain shelter which eventually houses three other hikers. We are both surprised, concerned, and a bit shaken by this family's "hike". 

Sleep through a cloudless, cooler, night.


With 1,200 miles in long distance hiking on the Appalachian Trail as a backdrop, here's some things to consider, even if you're going for what you believe is a casual hike:
  1. Know where you're going. Find and review, and if possibly have with you, a map of where you're hiking. Are there elevations and are they steep? Does the path intersect with other trails and if so where, how will you know how to stay on your trail? If you need water or shelter on the trail, where is it?
  2. Stay on the marked pathways. If you get confused, stop, look around, review your map. Ask for help from someone.
  3. Know the weather. Heat, cold, rain, thunder storms, high winds all change the complexity and risk of your hike. Plan accordingly, or go another day.
  4. Consider bringing food and water. It doesn't weigh much, can fit into a "fanny pack" or light back pack, and could save your life.

Sushi too

Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Waynesboro, PA (1063.8)

A down day, a "zero", where we basically doze, graze, resupply, doze, and graze. 

Choice! A wonderful thing.

Shot the picture above for Sketch, a rarity so far. One of the challenges of distance hiking is getting a variety of food in a size that is manageable. Pretty easy to buy peanuts, but its usually in a 1/2 ounce package or a half-pound (or larger) package. With a bulk food section, you can get a size that's right for the trail and with the variety so frequently craving.

We return to the Sushi-Korean place for dinner again (few choices in the downtown area that aren't fast food), and the owners know us, put us in the exact same spot at the sushi bar, and remember what we ordered. Amazing.

Back to the Trail in the morning, no more time off Trail until this section hike is done.

An Italian can most certainly include Roast Beef

Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Waynesboro, PA (1063.8)

Ame and Lisa get us fed, Ame goes off to work and Lisa drives us back to the trail.

We would have taken the wheels of cheese, but they were a bit heavy (Sketch, Paul Bunion, Ame)

Lisa, Sketch at trailhead

When on trail, I keep about 6-8 pages of AWOL's Guide in my pocket, in a plastic bag, for quick reference. Regrettably, these pages were still in my pocket last night when we did laundry, which turned into a rumbled white and black ball of pulp. As a primary, and now my sole resource (unless I ask Gabe), I am using Guthook's Guide which sits on my phone.

Another old AT sign, with total miles nearly 200 under current total.

Hikers looking for ride (left), other hikers greet pizza delivery dude (right). Hikers on left convinced pizza delivery dude to give them a ride. 

Relatively quick hike, we are heading to Waynesboro, PA for a nearo and a zero and staying at the Burgundy Lane B&B in the center of town. Trail dumps into a state park, where some hikers wait for a ride while others greet a pizza delivery man. I get to enjoy the sandwich that Ame and Lisa procured the ingredients for. 

Italian cold cuts with roast beef. Yum!

Sketch calls the B&B owner for a ride (included with the cost of stay), and he turns out to be an Air Force veteran as well (1969-73). They talk service and swap acronyms.

The B&B has single King sized beds in every room except one, a pink-heavy room called "Katherine's Retreat" which has two twins. Our host says something along the line of "I hope you're comfortable with your manliness in here." 

Sketch hands me a magazine so he can take a picture for his wife, emphasizing my face - in concert with? - in contrast to? - the headline "Secrets to Aging Gracefully".

Long distance hiking and trail mix, of course.

Waynesboro is one spread out town. I walk most of the downtown area, to the supermarket (about a mile away) and back. Its hot but without a pack, and slurping on a 16 ounce chocolate malt shake from a local hamburger place, do quite well.

Dinner is at a surprisingly good and personable Sushi/Korean restaurant. 

Not sure why its so misty, maybe just our hiker aura.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Cloud and Princess Macaroni

Monday, July 12
Wolfsville Road (1054.0)

We have one goal today, to get down to our rendezvous point with brother-in-law Ame for an overnight at his house. He recently moved to the Fredrick Md area from Texas.

A couple miles from the campground is an early memorial to George Washington. Built by residents of Boonesboro in 1827, it went through several iterations before being restored to its original design by the CCC in 1934-36.

Looking like an old fashioned milk bottle, it has a series of stone stairs that lead to a landing that provides a panorama to the valley below. Meet a dad who tells me his step dad used to take him here, so he'd taken the day off to show his teenage daughter. They were off to Gettysburg next.

Hike goes well, ahead of schedule by hours.

Hiker bridge over U.S. 70

Homeowner directs wayward hikers to the trail.

Trail sometimes goes under highways.
Interesting bug. Just sat there.
Arrive at end point and there's - trail magic. This time it's two hikers from last year, Cloud and Princess Macaroni. They met on the trail, are visiting in the area before heading off to Colorado for her school. Beer, candy, Gatorade, toilet paper. Let Ame know we are ready when he is, and settle in to wait.

Princess Macaroni, two thru hikers (forget names), Sketch and Cloud (knees).

He arrives 40 minutes later, and we are at his house about the same amount later. Will spare detail, but get cleaned up, laundry done, great meal, and a brief supply run.

All is good.

Joyful Sounds

Sunday, July 11
Dahlgren Backpack Campground (1040.3)

To get back to Trail, leave motel and walk back to the center of Harpers Ferry. It's early, see few people. Get to where Trail is supposed to be but it takes a bit to find the ramp which heads up to a shared railroad bridge which crosses the river. Day hikers, runners, and bikers use the same path.

It almost appears the path is going into the dark tunnel on the other side, but instead descends down a sturdy iron fence to a pathway below. Again, trail is not well marked as path goes in two directions, but see a hiker I know and get settled on the right path.

The path is smooth, following an 1800's "C&O Canal Towpath". The canal still exists, initially dry and filled with various plant growth, and later with water and bright green algae. I'm the only hiker, but there's lots of bikers, joggers, and casual walkers. At three miles veer off to a parking area, but towpath apparently continues much further.

I'm now firmly in Maryland. Rest for a bit, since next section is supposed to be challenging. Start, and maybe because I thought it was going to be tough, it seems easier. Up some, across rocky section that leads under a highway.

Stop at the Ed Garvey Shelter (1029.4) for water and food break. Talk to a family on a day hike, then with Crashpad and Tupac who seem a bit surprised to see me. Gabe is texting suggesting we go a bit further than planned to Dahlgren Campground, which makes sense.

Back on the trail and find I'm really enjoying the hike. The trail is forgiving, the heat and humidity are lower than in Virginia, and I'm making good time. Taking a "good rock"* break, Crashpad and Tupac bring my cook set bag which I'd set aside at the shelter. Thank you! They move on.

Trail veers off into what appears to be a state park, which it is, but it's mostly dedicated to a War Journalists Memorial, and partly to a Civil War skirmish in 1862 during the larger battle of South Mountain. Rather than recount both here, please separately do an internet search for background and learn of the memorial's sponsor, it's worth it.

From rags to riches as a Civil War journalist.

War Correspondents Memorial

Skirmishes abound in this area as Lee struggled to consolidate and protect his forces before the Battle of Antietam. 

Crashpad and Tupac are here and give me general directions, including pointing me towards an air conditioned museum where I can drop my bag while visiting. I do, and wander around. Eventually decide to continue on, get backpack and head through park toward trail and yet again, Crashpad is calling to me. I head over to a covered picnic area and a woman has set up Trail Magic with cold soda, fruit, and eight pints of fresh ice cream from a local creamery.

Sketch is too far away to participate.

Trail angel (left), Tupac (center), and Crashpad (right)

When is something bad going to happen today?

Say many thank you's and return to trail to finish the seven miles to the campground. It is state run, with seven tent pads, four occupied so I settle in on one to wait for Gabe. He arrives an hour or so later, and had a tougher day.

A group of younger hikers are crowded at a picnic table and later find out why. They've ordered in pizzas. A bit incongruous but makes me smile. A few others soon after having hiked to a convenience store for beer.

It about 8:30 so I crawl into my tent to get away from bugs and start settling in. As I'm lying there I listen to the conversation, as one dialog turns into three, volume increasing so each conversation can be heard. Broken by laughter, three turns to two, and two into one, then a brief silence, before it starts again. Makes me both happy and mildly melancholy, as I recall my own youthful conversations and our kids growing up with that same carefree sound.


* Good Rock Rule: I started this rule in 2014, which is if I see a good rock (or log), regardless of when I had my last break, it's okay to sit down. It's an option to sit, not an obligation. "Never pass a good rock."

A "great rock" is a different thing, flat and wide, high enough that my feet are in the air, with a slight rise so my backpack is lifted off my shoulders. Very hard to pass a great rock.