Category: Appalachian Trail

Anything related to the 2200 mile Appalachian Trail, stretching from Georgia to Maine.

One week later

We are back in Florida and Karen has already gone back to work.  This picture is from the day we got back, but you can clearly see her left Achilles is about twice the size of the right one.  I’m amazed that she was able to make it as far as she did with this level of inflammation.

Karen is not soured on hiking.  She really did enjoy the stretch we were able to hike, even with the less than ideal conditions weather wise and the physical pain.  Some pain is a part of hiking, but not that much pain.  I think we have a handle on the shoulder problems, and will work harder at pre-hike training for the next one.  And yes, we are talking about hiking again, but probably not as a six month trip.  One or two is possible, maybe I can talk her into three ;).

And speaking of hiking, I am not quite ready to go back into the rat race, so I am planning on hiking further this summer before I let the man shackle me to the desk again.  It took so long to break free, that I don’t want to let walking away from a 21 year career go to waste.  More on that soon….

Day 16 – End of the road

Today was a very trying day and we had to make a tough decision to quit the trail today.

Last night was cold but we both weathered it well.  I wore an extra layer and kept the mummy cinched down tight and the 34 degree weather was conquered easily.  I slept quite warmly until daylight when my legs felt a little cold.  Karen’s down bag kept her toasty all night.  Waking in the chilly air was pretty tough, though.  We did not have a cookable breakfast so cold granola bars it was.  And they were as hard as rocks in the cold temperature.

We started at 8 am and had 10 miles to get to Port Clinton.  The first few miles were quite pleasant and two hours later we had knocked out four of the miles.  And then the rocks hit.

Karen’s heel bothered her quite badly on the rocks and there was no shortage of them.  We had already decided that we needed to take a day off in town to reassess the blisters and see what the true culprit was.  The blister bandages still were intact so we left them on.  Usually they start to come off after 3 days or so and these had been on about a week.

Each mile got progressively slower and more painful for Karen but we did end up making it to town by 1 PM and were able to hit the only open restaurant in town with another hiker before they closed at 2.  The fourth hiker we camped with last night was the one who really wanted to make the restaurant but he never made it into town.

After lunch we were able to hitch a ride into the next town that has a motel, as the hotel in Port Clinton is closed on Mondays.  Once we were showered and able to get the bandages off we discovered that she did not have blisters at all, she has a tendon injury.  Most likely tendonitis.  Either way, it is not an injury that is likely to heal in less than a month and we really can’t realistically let that heal on the trail.  The rocks only get worse from here and there’s no sense in pushing on and making it worse.

So this is the end of our trip, as we have already booked a flight back to Florida on Wednesday.  We had some fun in these last two and a half weeks and 195 miles of trail, but we must now return home.

I asked Karen what her favorite part about the trip was and she said hiking through the farmlands.

The Cumberland valley farms was one of my favorite parts, too, and I’m glad I was able to share that with her in a way that no one can experience from a passing car.  There’s something about walking through the middle of it that makes it special.

Day 15 – Aaaaw hail yeah!

Global warming, huh.  Today started out quite brisk as we left the 501 shelter at 7am to make sure we had plenty of time to get 16 miles to the next shelter.  It was quite cold last night even in a fully enclosed shelter full of people.  Rustling, snoring people.

The morning started off bright and we both had our jackets on.  After about 9 or 10 am, the clouds rolled in and brought brief periods of rain for just a few minutes before it would stop.  Then ten minutes later start back up again.  We must have stopped to either take jackets off or put them on at least 20 times before lunch.

By about 1 PM the rain turned to hail spells and lasted well until after 6 PM.  Most of the hail was very small but one spell it was pea sized.  We ended up getting to the shelter at about 3:30 and even though the shelter was over a quarter mile off the trail, we were grateful to have reached it.  The wind was very gusty all afternoon and still is.

We were planning on camping out tonight but the wind has us holed up in the shelter.  One of the hail spells was actually light snow flurries.

Our leftover pizza from the 501 lasted us for breakfast and two lunches.  We snacked a few times on the way then ate our sub that we had packed out for dinner.  Nothing beats a day old sub when you are in the middle of the woods.  We should have cooked something warm, but meh.

The trail today was all kinds of crazy.  The blazes were quite lacking and the trail so poorly maintained that most of the way there were two or three trails in parallel that you could choose to take based on which one had fewer puddles or rocks.  In most cases the official AT was so littered with roots and sticks and small blowdowns you wouldn’t want to take the official one.  It impacts the ecosystem pretty negatively when this happens.  A wide swath of erosion will engulf this place before long.

We are here at Eagles Landing shelter and the shelter itself is pretty decent, but the area around it heavily impacted by mass camping.  The privy has a sign boasting that it is the first moldering privy on the AT in PA, but it’s nothing to be proud of.  It is overfull and not a pleasure at all to use.

We are here with two other hikers and one of them has spread a tarp over most of the opening to block some of the wind.  It is supposed to get down to 34 degrees tonight and I am only carrying a 40 degree bag that has already proven to be cold on the 45 degree nights.  I am wearing an extra fleece as protection and will wear my down jacket backwards to try to keep more of its loft rather than having it go to waste by compressing it behind my back.

We are probably going to have to take a zero tomorrow to let Karen’s heels heal better.  She doesn’t have blisters per se, but it is more like a subdermal blister or bruising.  She can be walking on flat ground and just have shooting pain in her heel for no reason at all.  If we stop for even 30/seconds it flares up as soon as she starts walking again.  The blister packs are still in good shape so we need to take them off tomorrow and see what is up.  The hotel in Port Clinton is closed tomorrow so we will have to walk into Hamburg instead.  It’s about ten miles to Port Clinton with a really steep descent then another mile and a half to the Walmart, Cabellas, and Microtel.  The weather tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and breezy and still quite cold.

Day 14 – Time for a rest

We had a fantastic night of sleep atop the ridge last night with no rain, no dew, and comfortable temperatures.  We got up early to make sure we could make six miles to the 501 shelter before the rains did.  We were out by seven and made the shelter well before eleven even with several leisurely stops at vistas along the way.

The trail was good most of the way with only one major rock scramble.  Being close to a road on a weekend day, there were a lot of day hikers out also enjoying the views.  The sun was shining and a gentle cool breeze was blowing.  It really was an ideal morning.

And then came the 501.  It is a very unusual shelter, being enclosed on all four sides and having a skylight and an outdoor shower and residential pump water source.  But the most striking feature is pizza.  The shelter is only 0.1 mi from highway 501 and the local pizza shop delivers for a $2 fee.  The catch is that they don’t start delivery until 4pm.

Since the local pizza joint did not start delivery until 4 pm, we had to patiently eat our peanut butter and jelly on English muffins and wait five whole hours.  Oh, the humanity.

Other hikers kept showing up all day so there were plenty of interesting people to meet and talk with throughout the day.  The worst part was that the rains did not come until three o’clock and it was still gorgeous outside all afternoon until then.  We felt guilty just sitting there passing the time.

But the wait was worth it.  At 4:02 we placed our order and at 4:45 we were eating pizza and a Caesar salad and had a wrapped sub ready for tomorrow.  We even splurged with a small Pepsi.  One of the thru hikers we met today ate a meatball sub and then a large pizza.  Another one ate chicken wings, fried broccoli, and half of a large pizza.  Karen and I ate only half our large pizza.

We are supposed to have nice sunny weather the next two days but it is supposed to be very windy and quite cold, as in 38 degrees cold.  42 has been our coldest so far and that one was no fun to wake up in so this should be an interesting few days.  After that, more rain.

Day 13 – Will the real Pennsylvania please stand up

Today was a rough day.  Not in miles or heat or bugs or hunger or thirst, but in rain and rocks.  The rains came at daybreak as promised and we slept in an extra hour to delay the inevitable… Packing up in the rain again.

It was not a hard rain, but just one of those annoying “need a jacket or umbrella but maybe not” rains.

The first few miles of the hike were on pleasant mining roads with only one sizable climb to get to Swatara Gap.  By the time we got to the PA 72 underpass, it was raining pretty hard.  We stayed put under the road for nearly two hours to wait it out.  The weather map showed the band about to pass us so we ate lunch to kill some time.  Five other hikers passed by and two also stopped for lunch.  Once we thought the band was past us, we set out again northwards.

When we got to the middle of Swatara State Park just past the iron bridge, there was a park ranger and two gentlemen handing out Gatorade.  We took one and drank it down quickly and moved on.  We were wet and miserable and could have taken the rail trail into the I-81 exit with restaurants and hotels, but we pushed on.  The climb up to the next ridge was a little steep in sections but the steepness made it last shorter at least.  We were not sure if we would make it to the next shelter or not for the evening but at least set a goal of an old abandoned power line as the must-reach goal.  We did make it and decided to push on and then the rocks hit….

Pennsylvania is known as Rocksylvania to AT hikers.  There are some stretches that have massive boulder fields you must scramble over.

It is usually considered that the 501 shelter (two shelters from us) is the beginning of the major rocks, but I think we hit an early patch.  Even northern Maryland had some rock scrambles but these today just seemed worse.  They were slick with rain still, many had moss or lichen on them and the majority of them moved when you stepped on them.  We decided to camp at the next suitable spot we found and we found one about a quarter mile later.

Rain is supposed to hit again tomorrow about 11 or 12 am and we only have 2 miles to the next shelter and then only four more to the famous 501 shelter.  The 501 is famous not only for the rock demarcation line, but it is also known for being a fully enclosed shelter with a skylight and pizza delivery service.

Depending on the rain and how we feel tomorrow, we may nearo (nearly zero meaning take the day off after a short hike) at the shelter or may try to hitch or shuttle to Pine Grove to try to get a hotel room.  It’s been a trying first two weeks and with the weather it’s probably time for a break.  After talking with a lot of the thru hikers from Georgia, they said the first two months of weather were excellent for them but the last two weeks have been miserable for them.  Just our luck.

Day 12 – A day alone

We did have the most excellent weather today, but it was not starting out that way in the morning.  We awoke to a thick fog that had some of the smaller local airports shut down until 10 am.  The trees were thick with dew and dropping rain on us as we broke camp atop Peters mountain.  We were on the trail shortly after 7 am.

Hiking in the fog was not bad at all.  We did miss several viewpoints because of it, but the temperature was good and a cool breeze kept us comfortable without jackets.  The terrain was a bit rocky, but nothing too slippery.  The fog broke for us just after 9 am and then from that point on it was blue skies and cool gentle breezes all day long.  It was very humid but comfortable.

We broke for an early lunch about 10:30 by the side of a trout stream where we saw two fisherman, but other than them, we did not see a soul all day long.  It was quite nice, but we did expect some of the Duncannon crowd to pass us, but no one did.

We left the stream just after 11 and headed up a long two mile climb, the only significant climb of the day.  We generated quite a sweat on the way up and loaded up with water because the guide book said there was none for the next 9 miles to the shelter.  The guide book lied.

I have been using the ALDHA guide for years since I am an ALDHA member and members get a free electronic copy of the guide.  I have always printed it out in small sections and carried only what I needed.  It is the official guide endorsed by the ATC.  But I am also carrying the AWOL southbound guide mainly for the flop portion of the flip flop.  There are over half a dozen water sources along the way and AWOL had indicated nearly all of them.  If I had known about them I would not have lugged 4 liters of water up a 1500 ft climb.  That’s eight pounds just in water.  Sheesh.  The AWOL guide is a full book and I’m not up to the point where I want to cut it up yet so for now I am taking pictures of the pertinent pages and I will view from my phone and then just take new pictures every few days as needed.

Once we finally got up to the top of the climb, we found out that the horse-shoe trail terminates right at the AT at the top of our climb.  That trail heads all the way to Valley Forge and passes just a half mile from Karen’s cousins house.  Now I know a 100 mile side trip I can take one day.

The rest of the day was mostly downhill and not too rocky or muddy which was nice for a change.  We made good time and hit the Rausch Gap shelter just after 5pm.  We went to the shelter to get spring water and no one was there but we are camped next to a pretty sizable stream.  If the water were not so cold there are many pools that would be good for swimming.

We are both pretty tired from a long day of hiking.  Our distance today was about 17 miles.  Karen’s feet bothered her early in the day but warmed up quickly.  We both have sore feet but it looks like the blisters are in check and may subside soon.  Other than feet, we are doing well physically.

We still have not seen another hiker today, we have eaten our dinner, cleaned up, and are bedded down for the night.  We are expecting rains to come in around midnight and stick around most of the day tomorrow, but we do not have cell service here, so there’s no way to know if the forecast has changed since this morning.  Most of the day has been without cell service which is odd because we have had excellent service all throughout the trip so far.  It makes little difference if it rains or not because we will still have to get up and hike.  If we don’t do it, it doesn’t get done.

Day 11 – Nice hiking weather today

Much improved weather today.  We were able to grab a hot breakfast at the diner next to the hotel (cheese steak omelette and pancakes) before getting a shuttle ride back out to the bridge to catch the trail again.  We left at a leisurely 9 am.

We had spent the morning repacking things and making one more adjustment to Karen’s pack.  We put one more layer of foam in the hip belt and it looks like it is finally riding at the correct height on her back.  She may look homeless (no offense to the homeless out there) but it seems to be working well as she did not complain of any shoulder pain all day today.  Foot pain is a different story.

We loaded up on blister packs at the Walmart in Carlisle and good thing.   She has had a blister on one of her small goes that we had surgical tape on but finally put a blister bandage on at the hotel.  We also put on a fresh heel bandage on her left heel which worked for a while until her heel started getting sore further up.  We stopped and put a regular bandage on it and tied her shoe into a heel lock lace which seemed to help for a while.  We ended up stopping again in an hour to put a blister bandage on it and that did not seem to do the trick.  It is inflamed so we stopped early and she is going to take ibuprofen tonight to take down the swelling. The heel lock lace also did not seem to do much.

My feet have been a little sore and I used a blister bandage on my left heel after our day of rain and the right one got sore but not bad enough to put a bandage on it.  The bandage actually wore through and stuck to my sock when i removed it last night.  Today they are slightly sore but no blisters and no bandages all day.  I may be over the blister hump now if our feet can stay dry for a few more days.

And speaking of dry, today was finally dry.  It was barely chilly in the morning crossing the bridge but the climb up the mountain out of the valley warmed us very quickly.  It was overcast all day and hazy with perhaps ten mile visibility again but otherwise the weather was perfect for hiking.  Tomorrow is supposed to be a mirror copy with rain coming at midnight.

The climb out of town was a little steep and quite rocky at the top.  The first shelter was only three miles from town but it took a full two hours to get there.  It was also off trail a short ways and it was only 11am so we just walked right past it.  There were lots of rocky vantage points and the view was good but marred by the haziness.  The trail all day was a mix of easy roads and difficult rocks.

We passed a group of about thirty school kids that I would guess to be about 8th grade.  They were at one of the rocky points about two miles from the next road and they were eating their lunch.  We did not stop to talk as they were preoccupied with their lunches.

Once we got to the road where they had started, we saw their school bus and stopped for lunch.  We also noticed that they had left a cooler full of drinks and food right beside the trail.  We supplemented our bran muffins lunch from the diner with Gatorade, apples, and a honeybun.  About two miles after that road we met another bunch of school kids but these seemed to be 5th graders.  We had been sitting at one of the overlooks when they stumbled upon us.

We felt like fish in an aquarium.  “Are you real hikers?”, “What are your trail names?”, “Where did you start?”  The questions came fast and furious.  And when another kid asked the same question all the others answered in unison for us.  One of the kids even had a trail name – Buffalo.

After the interaction with the kids, we got to thinking about our trail names again.  We never really liked Blitzo and Gomez.  We were hoping we would have fellow hikers rename us and even asked for names.  The problem is that we really don’t get to see the same people more than a few times.  We are faster than the other flip floppers and slower than the northbounders so we are essentially hiking alone.  The person we have seen the most we just refer to as “The Austrian”. He is probably close to our age and has a very thick German accent and is hiking with a Siberian husky.  The dog is super mellow and seems to be a perfect companion but hurt his paw a few days back so they have been hiking slower than the other NOBOs and just about keeping pace with us.  We camped with him the night before last and saw him several times yesterday.  We think he is about ten miles ahead of us now but we might catch up with him in a few days if he is not able to speed up.

So Karen decided to give us new names today.  She started out with The Professor and Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island.  We liked it but the Professor really doesn’t suit me so I thought maybe Gilligan and Mary Ann would be better, as I am more of a Gilligan.  After dinner I thought of Thurston and Lovie.  Karen likes that one, too so that one might stick.  We shall try them both out over the next few days and see which ones we like better.

The second shelter we came to today was one I remember well – Peters mountain shelter.  I remember it because it sleeps 20 hikers and has a 300 rock step trail down to water.  The school kids were there an hour before us and had filled three gallon jugs for the hikers.  I will really never forget it now, because just yesterday someone tried to burn it down.  They set fire to the wood chips in the privy, a plastic barrier fence that was protecting a revegetation area and a tarp that was protecting one side of the shelter.  The shelter was not too seriously damaged but soot was all over the first floor.  Another hiker who was there said that earlier hikers had come upon the shelter and saw the guy actually setting the fires.  He ran away as the hikers put out the fire.

I know shelters burn down every once in a while, but I had always assumed it had been someone being careless and let something get out of hand and not blatant arson.

With Karen’s sore foot we only hiked another mile past the shelter and are camped at the side of the ridge.  We cooked early and are in bed at 7 PM.  We saw some non hiker walk past us about a half an hour ago and then walk back a few minutes later.  He did not have a can of gas in his hand, luckily.  Wish us pleasant dreams.

Day 10 – Duncannon

Not so great weather today.  It started raining just before we woke up so this was the first day packing up in the rain.  Luckily it was a very light rain so we did not get too wet but it was a good practice of the new setup.  We keep the tarps separate from the hammocks so we can leave the tarps up until the very last minute while we take down the hammocks and pack everything else. It worked well, but I lost my pack cover a few days ago so during the last few steps things got a little wet.  The pack cover I had did not even keep the rain out so it would have been pretty useless anyway.

The light drizzle lasted most of the day.  We wore our rain jackets when it was level or downhill and took them off going uphill.  We got chilled sometimes and sweated in the jackets sometimes so in general it was not a pleasant day.

The terrain was not too bad.  We had to cross over a few ridges to get to cove mountain and passed through more fields to get there.  Once up on cove mountain it got pretty rocky so even though we were not changing altitude much, it was rough and slow going.  The view over the Susquehanna river from Hawk Rock was pretty clear despite the rain.  Visibility was probably about ten miles.

We made it into Duncannon, PA by 2 PM and went straight to the famous Doyle hotel.  It was once owned by Anheuser Busch and the current building is 110 years old.  We had heard the hamburgers were good but when we went to order apparently their Friday delivery had not come and they were out of nearly everything.  They did have Buffalo chicken salads and that suited us well as we were both craving greens.

We then did a quick resupply at the local convenience store and got a shuttle to a hotel just north of town.  We were advised by many southbounders to not stay at the Doyle.  Our first load of laundry in 10 days is done and every bodily orifice properly scrubbed.  It feels good to be clean.

Day 9 – Cumberland valley

Today was a bitterly cold morning wakeup but was quickly melted away with a hot breakfast and coffee in Boiling Springs.  We purposely got a late start so that the dew would have time to dry before walking through fields and farms of the Cumberland valley.

We were camped south of town and were greeted by three trains throughout the night.  The backpacker campsite is 50 yards from a very active track.

After hiking through town along the lake again we stopped at the local cafe and had pancakes, eggs, bacon, toast and way too much coffee.  We also dilly dallied a little bit because we were charging our phones.  We didn’t get a full charge but got us enough to make the next resupply in Duncannon tomorrow.

The hike out of town was very busy with Monday morning traffic but disappeared once we turned off the road into the woods.  The entire day was a mile of woods followed by a half mile of fields repeated all day long.  Not sure of the exact mileage but it was around 17 for the day.  The easy terrain is now behind us and we are only a few days away from where the serious rocks of PA begin.

We only had the last two miles not the in the valley to make it up to the first shelter from town.  We are camped out in our hammocks at the top of the hill and it is quite breezy.  There are two other flip floppers and about seven thru hikers up here tonight.  Most of the thru hikers are doing 25 mile days and today was no exception.  We are still nursing sore feet and are not quite up to full stamina yet so we stick to our 13-15 mile days.  But each day we improve.

The ghetto waist belt modifications on Karen’s pack seem to be helping her shoulders.  We will know better tomorrow since it will not be as flat as the terrain we saw today.

The weather was great.  We did not don the rain jackets except when we stopped a few times with a cool breeze blowing.  We were not hot and we were not cold.  It was overcast most of the day but we could feel the warmth of the sun.  Probably the best day we have had yet.  Tomorrow there is a slight chance of rain, but it is not supposed to be cold and hopefully it will come and go quickly if it t does rain.

Day 8 – The big grind

Today was a long day.  We had a great campsite last night and got a late start at about 8 am.  The terrain started off pretty mellow but quickly got steep and rocky.  Our intent was to try to meet Don in Boiling Springs between two and three but the terrain slowed us down more than expected.

Even though I have hiked this section not too long ago and thought that I had remembered it pretty well, I don’t remember there being stiff climbs up to the rocky mountain tops.  Being a weekend, there were lots of day and weekend hikers out as well as two separate groups of kids bouldering on some of the bigger rock outcroppings.  They had brought giant pads with them and all of them fell repeatedly.  We sat and watched them for about fifteen minutes.  Both groups were doing negative climbs.  They were basically hanging upside down from the rocks.  I have no idea how they even got as far as they did.  We had a hard enough time just navigating the maze of the trail in-between the large rocks.

The weather was quite warm today and hardly a cloud in the sky but the breeze at the mountain tops was quite chilly and had us donning out rain jackets several times.  By about two in the afternoon it was finally warm enough to ditch the jackets for good.

We made it into Boiling Springs by 3:45 and Don was sitting on a bench by the lake waiting for us.  There were tons of people walking around town.  There either was some event going on or just mothers day celebrations.

Don took us to Walmart to resupply and get some foam and Gorilla tape to rig Karen’s pack to make the hip belt fit better.  Her waist is so narrow and the hip belt only goes so small because of the pockets on it, that it has been riding a little low on her and pulling down on her shoulders.  We put another layer of foam inside the belt to make it ride higher.  We have one more layer of foam and are keeping the Gorilla tape in case we need to add a second layer.  If this does not work, we will have to hit an outfitter to see about getting her another pack that fits her better.

Dinner tonight was at Chili’s and we had a good talk with Don.  He has started taking his boys hiking and backpacking to one of the shelters near here.  After dinner he dropped us off near the hikers campsite where we repacked and are ready for a day of hiking through farmland tomorrow.