New Jersey, You Shall Not Defeat Me!

So New Jersey has it out for us. First it was just pointy rocks and aggressive, non-afraid bears. Then the mosquitos and biting flies. Followed by timber rattlers, slippery rocks, and 95 degree days with 95 percent humidity, pushing us to the brink of heat exhaustion. And then the lightning. Couldn't have been more than a few hundred yards, all around us. I think I heard it rained three inches in less than an hour.

Nevertheless, we're still alive and Maineward bound. Sorry for the lack of posts and pictures, it's been difficult to find access. Perhaps we'll get more stuff up later today...


On the Move Again

I got new shoes and my feet feel much better, even though we are walking over a lot of rocks...this is sort of what Pennsylvania is "famous" for on the AT. Sometimes the rocks are very small, but cover the trail in a way that makes it impossible to get a flat step. Other times we are scrambling across large boulder fields, on the lookout for snakes. There is hardly any elevation change, since the mountains are very long here, and we follow them for miles and miles. They are flat on top, and curve in an northeast direction. The other day we were at a place called the Pinnacle, which offers excellent views of the valley, as well as a "preview" of what we were getting ready to walk. We could see the rocky, barren Lehigh Gap, and it looked just as intimidating from 25 miles away as it did today up close.

We had an excellent surprise the other day when we were stopped in Port Clinton at the hiker's pavilion and we heard somebody say our names. It was a fellow hiker, Beach Bum's wife, aka First Wife! She recognized us from our blog and was in the area to visit Beach Bum and help him slackpack. She gave us a much needed ride to the grocery store where we found the best peanut butter ever.

In other news....we've been wading through poison ivy, but miraculously are not suffering from any rashes. We've been on the lookout for ticks, but haven't found many on our bodies. We had a semi-disaster with our tarp last night in a rainstorm, which was a real gully-washer, as my dad would say. Basically, the storm came just as we got to a shelter, and we didn't set it up properly. We got wet. The people sitting in the dry shelter several yards away found this hilarious. They refused to move over to allow us sanctuary from the storm. But we've met thousands of awesome people so far on this trip, so I suppose we are due to meet a couple of jerks now and again.

We have tons of pictures but no way to load them, so be patient, we'll get them up one of these days!


Why Am I at a Computer?

We should be hiking. We promised ourselves that we would be getting serious about hiking after all of the visits and fun we've been having for the past month. However, I've been having some pain in my foot, and it got bad enough to stop for a few days to rest and ice it. Nothing serious! Don't worry! And don't spread any crazy rumors! We're going to hike out on Monday.


Unexpected Visit from the P's

When we were in Carlisle last weekend, Stan passed on a message from my parents, who I THOUGHT were going to North Carolina for vacation. Instead, they decided come to Eastern PA and camp with us and help us out with some slack-packing.* Unexpected, but cause for celebration. We had them meet us at the Doyle, a famous, historic bar and hotel in Duncannon, PA. The owners are what you would call "hiker-friendly," and it's a place that a lot of thru-hikers stop because of the good prices and the fact that it is literally right on the AT. The owner of the Doyle called my parents "the P's" - a term we found quite amusing.

The first night, we camped near the confluence of the Juniata and Susquehana Rivers. In the morning, we set out across the rivers to Peter's Mountain, while my parents packed up their gear and our packs and headed for Lickdale, PA in their car. The day started out sunny and warm. Peter's Mountain offered some nice views of the rivers, the eerie experience of acres of tree cover eaten by gypsy moth caterpillars, and a few unexpected run-ins with some trail friends. By mid-afternoon, however, the skies were beginning to darken and we heard the sound of thunder, echoing through the valleys. A brief thunderstorm drenched us, but we were nearly dry by the time we hit the much-feared rattle-snake den, which is in a large boulder field that the AT crosses. Hikers who had passed through before us left notes on the trail with ominous warnings. We proceeded cautiously, but didn't see anything, assuming they took cover during the storm.

Just when we were nearly at the edge of the ridge, about to head into the gap to end our hike for the day, the clouds swirled up again, and this time, I knew the storm would be worse. I took off at a trot, leaving M behind, as thunderstorms do not panic him as much as me. I was just beginning the switchbacks when the rain began to fall. It rained harder and harder all the way down the hill, until I couldn't see anything out of my glasses, my clothes soaked through and heavy. But who cared? My parents were waiting at the bottom in a warm car, waiting to whisk us back to a campground with hot showers!

The rains did not let up for the duration of the evening, but we strung up our tarp over the picnic table, back at the campground, and had an enjoyable dinner, nonetheless. We even had wine! My parents have a huge tent, complete with a screened porch, so we had a comfortable sleep.

The next day, we slackpacked again, with a similar storm brewing in the afternoon; however, it did not hit us so hard, although surrounding areas got a lot of rain. This hike was about half aggravating rocks and half soft and level footpath. During the first few hours, we could hear little else beside the fighter jets and weapons being fired at the nearby military reservation. It was quite a racket. During the afternoon, we passed through many areas that had been heavily mined, as well as the ruins of an abandoned mining village. We ended up drinking very little water that day, to avoid having to fill up at one of the bright orange streams that crossed the trail, not being certain about the cause of the orange water.

On Thursday, we said goodbye to my parents, since they wanted to head for the Delaware Water Gap. We'll be there next week sometime.

*Slack-packing, or hiking without a backpack, can happen when you have some nice friends or relatives who drop you off where the road crosses the AT, and then pick you up down the trail at another road crossing. Sometimes thru-hikers even pay outfitters or shuttle services for this pleasurable way to enjoy the outdoors. Often the idea is to "pick up miles" or hike farther than possible with a big pack. Without my Gregory Deva on my pack, I am overcome by the sensation of floating through the woods. I leap from boulder to boulder with nary a care. The word "trudge" disappears from my daily vocabulary.


Another Beautiful Weekend

We were originally a little nervous about spending the weekend with our friend Stan at his parents' house near Carlisle, PA. He lives just minutes from the AT, and therefore was fully aware of the, err, aroma of hikers in the summer. He once told us that he was going to spray us off with a garden hose before letting us into the house. It was 95 degrees the day he picked us up, we hadn't had a proper shower in about 5 days, so we pretty much met his expectation in that category. We wondered briefly if we would be allowed in the house at all.

But the weekend has been absolutely fabulous, and Stan and his family showered us with outstanding hospitality.

Stan met us in Boiling Springs, and we were pleasantly surprised to see that our friend Jack was also with him. We stopped by Target to pick up a bathing suit for me, as well as some anti-itch cream - I've been eaten alive every night this week. (Those little buggers even bit me all over my butt, through my pants, while I was sleeping.)

Stan's mother, though she swears she had little experience cooking vegan food, whipped up some mighty delicious dishes for us...a bean salad, a spinach salad, some kind of rice dish, marinated roasted red peppers and mushrooms, and a fabulous corn salsa. Stan had an assortment of vegan hot dogs and prepared wonderful burritos for us. We even had vegan Belgian waffles for breakfast on Saturday. There was plenty of ice cold Straub and we spent a lot of time hanging out by the pool. Stan's parents, Stan and Jody, entertained us with stories from their time overseas.

On Friday night a huge storm blew through the area, and we were happy to watch the lightening from the front porch, instead of from the woods. In addition to Jack, we saw Jack's father, who came down from Huntington, PA. (For those of you who have known M & K a long time, you will remember that we got engaged on the Juniata River, while we were visiting Jack's parents.) Jack and his dad will be taking a trip through New England later this summer, so we're looking forward to seeing them again. We also saw an old friend from college, Dan, who lives out here now.

We put in a lot of miles in the heat to get here this weekend, but it was well worth it. We're feeling totally rejuvenated and ready to hit the trail again. Next stop is Duncannon by Monday, where we will have an unexpected rendez-vous with my parents.


Reptiles Love this Weather!

This morning, we had 12 miles to walk, which we aimed to do before lunchtime. Why the rush? Well, we had plans to meet our friend Stan in Boiling Springs, PA, and go to his parents' house for the weekend. In addition to seeing a good friend, we would have the opportunity to go swimming, eat delicious food and drink some cold beer. Therefore, we were moving at a pretty good clip.

I usually walk first, and the trail is so rocky, that I spend a fair amount of time looking at the ground, to keep from tripping. This is a good thing, since there are occasionally things besides rocks on the ground. Today, I nearly stepped on a copperhead, that was stretched out across the trail. I guess I scared him, because he snapped his head around towards me, just as I gasped and stopped suddenly, causing M to nearly run into me. Copperheads are relatively common in this area, but we hadn't seen one yet, and definitely hadn't seen an angry one yet. We waited for a minute to see if he would slither off the trail, but a minute turned into ten, and he continued to just stare us down. Normally, we would just walk around the snake, but this part of the trail was rather narrow, running up a mountain through laurel thickets overgrown with, as we call them in Pittsburgh, "jagger bushes". This was not particularly appealing to us.

We entertained some other solutions. M threw a small rock in the direction of the copperhead. Nothing. M offered to use my trek pole to fling the snake off the trail. I thought about this for a moment, but could not remember exactly how to treat a snake bite, and so declined. Stan was on his way to Boiling Springs. Also, it was about 95 degrees, so we were standing there baking in the sun. The snake continued to hold his ground. We had no choice; off the trail we went, giving the snake plenty of distance, but getting "jagged" a little in the process. We continued up the mountain.

M remarked that we had seen a lot of toads and snakes in the past few days, but had not seen a turtle. Would you believe that not a mile down the trail I nearly stepped on one? He was traveling slowly across the trail, but cooperated well enough as M snapped his picture.

A few miles later, I halted again, this time for a black snake. Not poisonous, but he was also refusing to give up his sunny patch of trail. I walked off the trail, fortunately not into a laurel thicket this time. When M went to pass however, the snake became even more defensive, beating its tail on the ground and hissing.

That was the last reptile sighting of the day, but believe me, I was watching where I walked!


The OFFICIAL Halfway

The Appalachian Trail is 2,174 miles long. You may have heard us say that it is 2,175 miles long. I've seen a lot of t-shirts and bumper stickers that use that figure. The ATC, which publishes the official Data Book, notes that annual increases or decreases are due to trail relocations, which happen all the time as a result of maintenance, land acquisition, etc.

Anyway, the point is, we hit the official halfway point. It is a hiker tradition to eat a half gallon of ice cream at the halfway point, which is near Pine Grove Furnace State Park. Many hikers try to eat it really fast. The time to beat is 4 minutes and 40 seconds, although it is rumored that this hiker allowed his ice cream to melt and then drank it. On the day we went through, hikers were averaging 30-40 minutes and looking pretty ill from it. M and I declined to participate in this tradition, but did eat some fries to celebrate.

Man, it's a long way to Maine.


Maryland, which side were you on, anyway?

It took us sooo long to get through Virginia...then before we knew it, we blew through West Virginia and Maryland, in less than 3 days.

If you happened to be driving down I70 in Maryland, on Monday evening around 7:30 pm, you would have had the opportunity to honk your horn at two sweaty hikers crossing the pedestrian bridge near US40/National Pike. In all our journeys down I70, I'm not sure we've ever actually seen anybody on that bridge. However, we took our time crossing, to allow as many people as possible the opportunity to view real, live thru-hikers. The truckers all blew their horns, and as passenger cars whizzed by, I could see people gesturing and imagined the conversations.

"Look up there, those people are hiking the Appalachian Trail."

"Oh, really? I didn't know it went through here. How many days does it take to hike that trail?"

"I don't know. Say, did you read that funny book about it called...what was it called?"

"A Walk....a Walk in the Woods. You know, he encountered a grizzly bear on his trip."

(For the record, the trail runs 2,174 miles from Georgia to Maine; we've been on the trail 95 days and are only halfway there; Bill Bryson wrote A Walk in the Woods and despite the grizzly-looking image on the cover, most assuredly did NOT see a grizzly, as they do not live in the Eastern US.)

We hiked Maryland in two days, and didn't feel too badly about moving fast, since it's a part of the trail we will likely revisit in the future. The first few miles out of Harper's Ferry were blissfully flat, as they followed the C&O Towpath, now a bicycle trail that runs from Cumberland to Washington DC. We walked through the famous Dahlgren Back Pack Campground with its hot showers and flush toilets, and I decided it was the perfect place to get my mother started on backpacking. (Oh yes, Mum, I will get you out in these woods for an overnight, just you wait!) We ate dinner with a troop of Boy Scouts at the Youth Campground near the (first) Washington Monument, which was built in 1827. We finished out our brief tour of Maryland in the Pen Mar Park, which had hundreds of picnic tables, and even a swing, right off the trail.

When we entered Pennsylvania, I literally dropped to my knees and kissed the ground. No small feat with a 30 pound load on your back.


Kayak Fun

I wish we had some pictures to show you of the kayak demo yesterday, but unfortunately we took the camera with us, sans memory card. M has a lot of family in Maryland, and we went out to the Eastern Shore for the day, to visit. M's Aunt Wendy belongs to a kayak club, and they were hosting a demo. Basically, everybody dragged their kayaks out to the beach and let other people try them out. M and I paddled around in several, including a tandem kayak, and had a great time. Even M's mom got into the fun and went out a few times. I will definitely be saving up for a kayak.

Today, we're heading back to Harper's Ferry to continue our AT adventure. Next stop is Scott Farm, by next weekend. We'll be returning to our home state within the next couple of days. Hooray!